Archive for April, 2008

Fifty years ago this month, the late columnist Herb Caen of The San Francisco Chronicle coined the word “beatnik.”

As it happened, a recognized Beat Generation — epitomized in literature by poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist Jack Kerouac — had made its presence known over the previous decade, and six months earlier, the Soviet Union had begun the “space race” by launching Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the globe. With his typical whimsy, Caen in April 1958 blended the two names into beatnik.

This much of what I remember I can confirm. What I can’t confirm is my vague recollection of why Caen did it. I welcome any correction, but if my memory is accurate, it was in reference to an otherwise-not-bad Beat who one day lost it and ended up destroying property in North Beach.*

On this mostly unnoticed but nonetheless historic anniversary, it would seem appropriate to comment on Sausalito’s No Name bar. It too began five decades ago, but its connection to the Beat Era runs deeper.

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When the bar first opened, it was a beatnik bar,” Michael Aragon, drummer and bandleader, told me last week. (Seen here performing with Aragon are Rob Roth on sax and Pierre Archain on bass.)

“Lots of folks like Jack Kerouac, [actor] Sterling Hayden, Allen Ginsberg, and the like hung out there and played chess, read poetry, wore lots of berets and horned-rimmed glasses, and played bongo drums,” said Aragon, who schedules the music at the No Name. “And how can we forget the cigarettes?”

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In the No Name’s protected garden where smoking is still permitted, Michael Hall plays chess four times a week, as he has for 20 years. Hall, an electrical contractor who lives on a houseboat, is but one of the bar’s regular chess players.

Along with chess and smoking, cool jazz and bebop from the Beat Era are alive and well and living in Sausalito. “I have been blessed with the opportunity to keep jazz music alive at the No Name for the past 25 years,” Aragon said. “This is the longest-running, continuous jazz gig in Marin County.

“This in itself is a miracle, considering that most people believe that the only way to survive in the club world is to constantly inundate the mind with tremendous amounts of decibels.”
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Trombonist Mal Sharpe, who heads the Big Money in Jazz Band, has played Dixieland jazz Sunday afternoons at the the No Name for roughly 15 years, he told me this week. Thanks to YouTube, Sharpe and his band can be seen and heard playing at the bar by clicking on The Sunny Side of the Street or St. Louis Blues.

“The bar is a unique place,” Aragon remarked, “because on one side of you there could be sitting a homeless person and on the other side, someone that owns a $50 million yacht. What I have tried to do over the years is make sure that no matter what, everyone is treated the same.”

There is music at the bar seven nights a week. On Friday and Saturday, jazz groups play from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., and on Sundays, there is Dixieland from 3 to 7 p.m.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, the No Name features blues and folk music from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. On Tuesdays, an open microphone is held from 8:30 p.m. to midnight.

100_7161_1.jpgThe bar is now under its fifth ownership, Aragon told me, and as the sign out front reveals, No Name is not really the bar’s name. It literally is a bar with no name. Check the phone book; you’ll find it listed as “no name 757 Bridgeway Sau.”

There’s also no cover charge, and the audience is always a mix of oldtimers who were around for the Beat Era, tourists, and fans of live-music, especially jazz.

* Over time, the term “beatnik” came to refer anyone with the supposed trappings of Beat writers and artists: berets, dark glasses, dark clothing, and a propensity to use hipster slang. For Ginsberg and Kerouac, “Beats” were down-and-out wanderers who also were visionaries. Both writers resented their quixotic outcasts’ being confused with “beatniks.”

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Still Life With Raccoon‘ (My school of art obviously lies somewhere between R. Crumb and Art Nouveau)
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Black Mountain with the Giacomini Wetlands in the foreground. Much of what is now Nicasio Reservoir, Point Reyes Station, and the land in between was once owned by the Black family, whose daughter Mary married Dr. Galen Burdell, a dentist. When the narrow-gauge railroad between Cazadero and Sausalito went into service in 1875 — with a stop in a pasture his wife had inherited — Dr. Burdell subdivided the pasture and created Point Reyes Station. (Photo by Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park)

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Point Reyes Station as seen from an airliner. (One of the plane’s jets is visible at upper right.) In the center at the top of the photo is Nicasio Reservoir with Black Mountain just below it while at the bottom, Papermill Creek empties into Tomales Bay. The row of whitish roofs at right is along the main street of town. Guido Hennig, a German friend working in Switzerland, shot this photo while en route from Europe.

bus-making-u-turn_1.jpgA tight maneuver. Linda Sturdivant while driving home with her daughter Seeva one afternoon last week came upon this full-sized bus making a U-turn on the levee road.

The levee road (a section of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard) used to be straight. The jog in it was created by the 1906 Earthquake. Land on both sides of the San Andreas Fault, which runs under the roadway, was offset 20 feet by the temblor.

Linda, by the way, takes care of people’s pets when they’re away. Recent wards (each owned by a different master) have included a cat, a rat, and a duck. Sounds like the start of political joke.

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So that’s how things look around town these days. And if you’re interested in some blossoms for your own cabin, Mrs. Raccoon appears to be selling some nice ones.

This yellow journalism stinks, I said to myself last Wednesday morning upon picking up my San Francisco Chronicle at the bottom of the driveway. As I discovered with displeasure, one of the neighborhood foxes had peed on it.

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Foxes are like that, marking relatively prominent spots around their food sources and dens. Last year, neighbor Jay Haas discovered that foxes were leaving their scat on top of the fence posts between his property and mine.

Campolindo Road is a foxy neighborhood. Gray foxes periodically take shortcuts across my deck at night, and several of us on the hill have seen red foxes during the day.

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Today I stopped in Point Reyes Station to photograph the Sir George Mallory of chickens, who can often be seen trekking along Highway 1 downhill from West Marin School.

“Why do you keep climbing through the fence?” I asked Sir George. “Because it is there,” he crowed. I urged him to be careful, remembering that his namesake had fallen to his death while making a third attempt to climb Mount Everest. “You’re probably also worried that the sky is falling,” Sir George clucked and went back to pecking.

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As for blacktail deer, which every day forage near my cabin….

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Does chewing their cuds in the shade

West Marin is in the fawning season. Susan Sasso of Olema, who rehabilitates sick, injured, and orphaned fawns for Wildcare, six weeks ago took in her first fawn of the year. Its mother had died in childbirth.

But the greatest threat to blacktails — as it is in the short term for Sir George Mallory chicken — is the motor vehicle. “Night travel on the road is dangerous,” writes Point Reyes Station biologist Jules Evens in the maiden issue of The West Marin Review.

“Skunk, coon, opossum, and especially black-tailed deer are apt to appear around any curve. By day, one is assured of finding vultures feeding on the victims of our dispassionate, modern-day automotive predators — CRVs, 4-Runners, Humvees — twisted and splayed on the asphalt. The vultures gather in small groups, taking turns at the roadside deer dinner.”

So I ask you, friends, please slow down when you drive past Campolindo Road at night. These deer too are my friends.

Chileno Valley ranchers Mike and Sally Gale several weeks ago returned home after spending a fortnight in the Middle East visiting their son Ivan, a newspaperman in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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Sally, Mike, and Ivan Gale at their Chileno Valley ranch last Christmas.

In 2003 and 2004, Ivan was an excellent reporter for The Point Reyes Light, winning three national and three statewide journalism awards during those two years. Ivan left The Light to attend Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and earned two master’s degrees in Communications, one with a specialty in Science Reporting.

From there, he managed to land a job in the UAE, where for two years he was a business reporter for The Gulf News in Dubai. The transportation industry was his main beat. Ivan, now 33, this month will begin a new job with a startup daily in Abu Dhabi.

ae-map.jpgMaps from the World Fact Book, which is posted by the CIA.

The UAE is a federation of seven states on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The federation’s neighbors are Saudi Arabia and Oman while across the narrow Strait of Hormuz lies Iran.

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The emirates are shown to the upper left of Oman on the right side of Saudi Arabia.

A federal constitutional monarchy, the UAE’s presidency is always held by a member of the Al Nahyan clan of Abu Dhabi and its premiership by the Al Maktoum clan of Dubai. The Supreme Council, which consists of the rulers of the seven emirates, elects a Council of Ministers.

Thanks to oil and natural-gas revenues, which in turn have fueled other industrial development, the UAE has the fifth highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the world.

A whopping 85 percent of the UAE’s population of 4.5 million are non-citizens. Along with residents from other Arab countries, there are 2.15 million South Asians (mostly Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis plus several thousand Sri Lankans).

In its report on Human Rights, the US State Department annually complains about abuse of South Asian workers in the UAE. And while acknowledging improvements in recent years, the State Department also reports the UAE’s Islamic fundamentalism can be harsh.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Islam in the emirates is far less fundamentalist than in such neighbors as Saudi Arabia and Iran. And the UAE is definitely friendly to the West. From 1892 until 1971, its states were by treaty under British military protection. In 1990-91, the emirates joined the fight against Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War, which followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

dsc_0261_1.jpgDuring his parents’ visit, Ivan (at left) accompanied them on a trip to Jordan, which is across the Arabian Peninsula from the UAE. Included here are two photos from that trip. While Sally like other women was expected to wear a headscarf, Ivan and Mike are wearing them to ward off a cold wind.

Because the emirates are Arab states ruled by sheiks, with each state having both secular and Islamic law, I found myself wondering what is it like for Ivan to live and work in this world — especially when he doesn’t speak Arabic. And for that matter, why are there several English-language newspapers in the UAE?

On the occasion of Ivan’s moving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and going to work for a new newspaper, I questioned him by email about his life there. Here are his answers:

DVM: What can you tell me about the newspaper where you’ll be working?

Ivan: The National is set to launch on April 17 and will be a nationwide, general-interest, English-language newspaper.

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We will be the only English daily based in Abu Dhabi [above], the UAE capital, but there are a handful of other English dailies based in Dubai and Sharjah.

A lot of newspapers have done well here because the real estate market (and the economy as a whole) is so hot it is keeping the advertising market extremely buoyant.

Our newspaper is funded by the Abu Dhabi government which is reshaping its media subsidiary (and our parent company), Emirates Media Inc., into Abu Dhabi Media Company. ADMC’s CEO is Ed Borgerding (formerly executive vice president of Walt Disney International in Hong Kong and senior vice president of Walt Disney International Television in Hong Kong and London).

Our newspaper is the first and most significant new initiative from the Abu Dhabi government’s media arm, which has some pretty ambitious plans for the future.

DVM: Why is it possible for an English-language paper to survive in the Arab world?

Ivan: Some UAE-based English dailies have not only survived, they have flourished. This is in large part due to the high expat and South Asian population fluent in English. There could be as many or more English speakers than Arabic speakers in this country because of the
high numbers of foreign workers living here.

dsc_0118.jpgThere are some other [English-language newspapers in the Arab world]: The Daily Star in Lebanon and some newspapers and business magazines in Cairo, where English-language publications have established themselves. But outside the UAE, I don’t think you will find the same conditions of a booming economy and a critical mass of English readers that have spelled success for the local dailies here.

Outside of the commercial aspects, I think local publications provide an important service for English readers living outside the region. There is a growing hunger among readers in the East and West [for news] about what is happening in the Middle East, and this will mean online readers will increasingly consult the websites of UAE newspapers for news and analysis.

DVM How many English-language newspapers are there in the UAE?

IVAN: 7 Days (daily freesheet), Gulf News (daily broadsheet), Khaleej Times (daily broadsheet), Emiates 24-7 (daily tabloid business newspaper), Xpress (free weekly newspaper), Gulf Today (daily broadsheet), and soon The National (daily broadsheet).

I should also note that The Times of London began printing an edition in the UAE last year, and The Financial Times does as well, I believe.

DVM: How much of the English-language press’ readership in the UAE is from India?

Ivan: It has been said that some newspapers cater almost exclusively to the South Asian segment of the population. As a block they could very well constitute the single largest group in this country. It’s probably true that some of the English newspapers rely on this group for at least half or more of their readership. But there are also large numbers of expats living here from the UK, Europe, and North America. A lot of Arab businessmen also consult the English press for news and analysis too. So it’s definitely a mix.

DVM: What fuels the UAE economy?

Ivan: A brief answer would be high oil prices which spill over into a booming real estate market, high consumer spending, and the relentless pace of infrastructure mega-projects [built with] private and government… investment. Travel and tourism are also very important.

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DVM: I gather you’ll be covering transportation. Why is that a major beat in the UAE?

IVAN: The thing is, there are many major beats here because the UAE government — and Dubai [above] in particular over the past five years — have undertaken an ambitious and wide-ranging diversification campaign. So there are exciting developments going on in real estate, finance, telecoms and technology, travel and tourism, media and marketing, and of course oil and gas.

But it is important to note that transport was the first major industry that put this country on the map after its pearling industry collapsed. Dubai borrowed heavily to dredge its creek and then build a deepwater port around the 1950s — before the country’s oil and gas reserves were discovered.

They’ve gone from strength to strength, and Jebel Ali Port in Dubai is now the largest between Rotterdam and Singapore. Emirates Airline is now on track to become the largest international airline in the next four to seven years. The airline has roughly 250 aircraft on order right now, worth $60 billion, while Dubai and Abu Dhabi together are spending close to $50 billion on new airport infrastructure. The name of Dubai’s new airport hub is telling: “Dubai World Central.”

DVM: Under Islamic law, Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol. What are the UAE’s laws on drinking as they apply to you?

Ivan: It is legal to buy from a licensed liquor shop if you have an alcohol license. You can also buy from the duty free shops at the airport when you arrive. In some emirates, there are hole-in-the-wall shops where you don’t have to have a license.

DVM: How much Arabic do you speak? How do you get along — both at work and around town — without being fluent?

Ivan: I’ve picked up greetings and how to exchange pleasantries but never studied the language. And I’ve never felt that I was any worse for it. The Emiratis and the Arabs from other countries who live here all speak English with varying levels of fluency. People in the service industry are invariably from the Philippines or South Asia. Frankly, this would be a tough place to study Arabic because there is no immersion experience. English is read and spoken all around you.

Gathered on both sides of Papermill Creek Sunday morning, 125 West Marin residents demonstrated their support for a pedestrian bridge at the site of the onetime irrigation dam for the Giacomini Ranch.

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Demonstrators including surfboarders, kayakers, several dogs, and people on opposite shores assemble for an Art Rogers photograph Sunday morning. A line over Papermill/Lagunitas Creek marks where the demonstrators want the Park Service to build a pedestrian bridge.

Originally a saltwater marsh, the ranchland was bought by the Giacomini family in 1944. Encouraged by the federal government (which wanted to increase wartime milk production) and subsidized under the Land Reclamation Act, the Giacominis built dikes surrounding the ranch to keep water from inundating their pastures at high tide. For half a century, the ranch prospered, but in 1998, the State Water Resources Control Board, stopped issuing permits for its seasonal irrigation dam.

In 2000, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area bought 550 acres of the ranch for $5.75 million. This Recreation Area land is being administered by the Point Reyes National Seashore, which last year began excavating it for a new marsh.

Even before the 550-acre sale eight years ago, the Giacomini family had sold more than 400 acres to public agencies, with Marin County Open Space District acquiring a slice of acreage just downstream from the Green Bridge. The acreage is bordered by the creek on the south and Point Reyes Station’s C Street on the north.

A footpath along the western edge of the county land from C Street to the dam site became popular for short walks.

Meanwhile, the County Open Space District — with assistance from the state — developed White House Pool park on the opposite bank. The park includes a scenic path along Papermill Creek from Inverness Park to the old dam site.

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Demonstrators on the south shore of Papermill Creek last Sunday said they want a bridge so that pedestrians and bicyclists, especially children, are not forced to travel along the shoulder of the 45 mph levee road when going between Inverness Park and Point Reyes Station.

Not surprisingly, many of those at Sunday’s pro-bridge demonstration were residents of Inverness Park.

As administers of the Recreation Area land, the Point Reyes National Seashore has said it will soon hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed bridge. At this point, loudest opponents to the proposal are ideologues who insist that once a new marsh is created, humans should not sully nature with a path and bridge.

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The new wetland will be located between downtown Point Reyes Station and downtown Inverness Park. The pathway above runs between the proposed bridge site and C Street in Point Reyes Station (seen in the background).

Folks, the land is not virgin terrain on either side of Papermill Creek below the Green Bridge. Not only has much of it been grazed for more than 50 years, humans have been reshaping it since at least 1855 when Samuel P. Taylor “built a warehouse at creekside for the paper he manufactured eight miles upstream,” to quote the late historian Jack Mason’s Earthquake Bay.

It was here the steamer Monterey deposited passengers Olema-bound.

A ferry crossed the creek here, Charlie Hall charging 25 cents one way per passenger. His bar, the Ferry House, was nearby to the south…. The county bridged the creek in 1875, the year the train came and the steamer pulled out.”

When the Park Service bought the Giacomini Ranch eight years ago, it’s stated goal was to create wetlands and thereby slow sedimentation of Tomales Bay and improve its overall environment. There was no mention of creating a wilderness area between the county firehouse and the Inverness Park Store. Remember, the former ranch is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the purpose of recreation areas is not to exclude humans.

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Demonstrators on Sunday morning walk along the scenic path from White House Pool to the site of the proposed bridge. The Point Reyes National Seashore a while back argued for the elimination of this route near the creek, I have been told by county staff. In the background is Inverness Park.

The National Seashore, which would have to pay for much of the bridge, is also opposing it. For a public park, it is amazing how misanthropic its policies are. A while back, the park tried to convince Marin County Open Space District to reroute the scenic White House Pool path so that it ran along the edge of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (the levee road) instead of along the creek. That way, nature would not be disturbed by humans walking through it. Fortunately, the county did not go along with the idea.

100_7022_1.jpgNow the National Seashore administration has raised a new objection. Even though the bridge would connect two rutted dirt paths, the park says it would have to be wheelchair accessible, and the requisite ramps for the eight-foot-wide bridge would double its length, making it 450 to 600 feet long. That’s more than twice the length of the Green Bridge and more than three times the length of Platform Bridge.

This Brooklyn Bridge over Papermill Creek — up to twice the length of a football field — would cost millions of dollars, the park says, and it is therefore unaffordable. I’m not buying any of it.

Here Joyce Goldfield of Inverness Park, who uses a motorized scooter to get around, takes part in the pro-bridge demonstration along with Duane Irving.