Letters to the Editor

More About Moors; No Man's Land; Bleak House; Biting Commentary

More About Moors

Methinks thou dost protest too much: Your criticism of Guerrilla Shakespeare's Othello is flawed on three counts, all of which are crucial to your argument that the play is ineffective without its political context ("Less vs. Moor," Stage, Aug. 15).

First, it is apparent that Shakespeare himself had little regard for the historical or geographical accuracy of the play, by the fact that the events described could not possibly have taken place as the Bard depicted them. Cyprus, while less than 50 miles from the coast of Turkey, is about 1,350 miles from Venice. Add to this the distance traveled by the Messenger in Act 1, Scene 3, and it is obvious that had the Ottomites decided to invade Cyprus in the manner Shakespeare described, it would have been impossible for Othello and company to get the jump on them.

Second, I must disagree that it is a stage director's job to avoid "being offensive" to anyone and to "clarify" racially "tangy" aspects of the plot for "an audience that considers Cyprus and Venice a couple of pricey Mediterranean resorts." Every work of art assumes some familiarity with the culture that produced it, and Othello is no exception.

The third error is the one in which you share the most company, and I am loath to bring it up except that it illustrates that the "political context" of which you feel the play has been "stripped" is more the product of modern revisionist interpretation than of Shakespeare's genius: Othello was probably not what we would call "Negro." In fact, Othello would probably resemble [actor Paul] Santiago a good deal more than he would resemble any of Santiago's African-American colleagues. While many ethnographers believe some of the Moors were Negro, nobody believes they all were. It is just as likely that Othello was Arab, since Arabs were also lumped under the category of "Moors," along with Caucasian and Semitic-looking Berbers. That Shakespeare called him "black" shows that either he was using the word as a synonym for "ugly" or that he knew as much about African ethnology as he did about Mediterranean geography.

Orville Canter
Via Internet

No Man's Land

We liked it better after a few drinks: I enjoyed your column about bars in my neighborhood ("The Outer Limits," The Mix, Aug. 15). I live across the street from St. Mary's Pub. My 5-year-old daughter likes to stand near the doorway of Calon's and listen to the music; it makes her want to dance. The best name I have heard for the neighborhood is not outer-Outer Mission, since the Outer Mission neighborhood is actually farther away, nor Lower Bernal Heights, which sounds like an oxymoron. The name we like is "Bernal Depths," which is, I think, quite catchy.

Larry Levin
Mission/Bernal Heights

Bleak House

A poor argument:I want to respond to Adrienne Gagnon's review of Todd Hido's photographs at Stephen Wirtz Gallery ("Windows Blind," Art, Aug. 8). Though Gagnon's formal descriptions -- of color, composition, and detail -- bring out some of the delicate, sublime pleasures and unsettling tones in Hido's work, I was troubled by her repeated assumptions about Hido's subjects.

Gagnon describes Hido's photographs as "images of the unadorned, weather-thrashed, low-income homes one might encounter in industrial cities like Pittsburgh or Detroit" and asserts that "[t]o your average gallery visitor, such neighborhoods are foreign lands, rumored on the nightly news but rarely encountered in real life." She then uses this foundation to worry that Hido risks "exoticization of America's poor" in the style of Walker Evans' Depression images.

One of the reasons I found this exhibition of Hido's work so compelling is that I see these images everywhere (though I can't commit them to a photograph with Hido's skill and grace). Among other places, I recognize this imagery from my small Minnesota hometown and from Anysuburb, U.S.A. And in the not-so-industrial city of San Francisco, I also can see this type of unadorned bleakness, even in the waterfront apartments that are ridiculously beyond my pocketbook and most other people's. Who is making assumptions about (and exoticizing) the poor? Inside the gallery, Gagnon's vision is acute enough to see some of the resonant qualities of this body of work (though she is quickly bored), but in "real life," is she blind?

Jill Boldenow
Minneapolis, Minn.

Barking Commentary

Parking and praying: I, too, have noticed the parking double standard taking place along Valencia and Dolores ("S.F. Unwritten Rule No. 24," Dog Bites, Aug. 15, on the policy of towing illegally parked business customers on weekend nights but not churchgoers on Sunday mornings). I live in the area and don't need to use the parking for either church or businesses. One observation is that the church crowd is much less "volatile." The church parkers seem to confine themselves to Dolores Street and tend to leave Valencia alone.

When the median fills up with churchgoers, they tend to all park at about the same time and leave at the same time. When people park there to patronize the businesses, they are often making deliveries or "quick runs," which involve much more activity across the free lane of traffic and slow traffic down considerably. Add a double-parked truck and traffic in the bicycle lane to the mix and you have a really hazardous situation.

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