The Manila Envelope, Please: Lots of creative types want people to think they suffer for their art, but when we got the e-mail, we laughed, stared, laughed again, and then became a little afraid: "LOCAL ARTIST MICHAEL ARCEGA BUILDS A SHIP MADE FROM MANILA FOLDERS AND A WOOD FRAME AND SAILS FROM TOMALES BAY TO COMMEMORATE PAST EVENTS SHARED BY MEXICO, MANILA AND CALIFORNIA." It was a lot to take in, especially when we read that the guy was going to be in the boat at the time of sailing.
This we had to see.
We arrived at the launch expecting an awkward, slapped-together piece of crap for a boat, and a self-important artist proud as punch that it might float, because we grew up in Sonoma County, where such things are both staggeringly regular and lauded by the art-starved local press. It seems every time a hippie ties yarn to twigs, they give him an "A" for effort and put his picture in the paper, filthy knit hat and all.
To our surprise, the 10-foot-long galleon was a gleaming thing, model-airplane intricate and authentic enough to appear slightly menacing. In short, it was performance art that actually performed. No detail had been overlooked, from inch-high balustrades to a foot-square horizontal cloth sail to tiny rigging made from what we would later learn was Manila rope. El Conquistadork was the ship's name, and she was built to carry a zany artist to Hog Island and back a triangular voyage plotted, we were told, to represent the ancient trade routes of the period between the 16th and 18th centuries, when Western sailors first sighted San Francisco Bay while searching for a restocking point on the way back to the Philippines.
The artist, Mike Arcega, elfin and dashing in his wet suit and Manila-folder conqueror's helmet, was answering questions from the 50-odd admirers assembled at Miller's Point boat launch. Many of the questions came from flirtatious young women, who batted their lashes at him and posed incisive queries like, "Why Manila folders?" The answer, Arcega patiently explained, involved the juxtaposition of modern office products with the age-old image of the galleon, whose voyages produced a collision of cultures, the start of a truly global perspective, in an era when the Western powers were asserting themselves like never before.
A few hours past the proposed launch time (shades of Sonoma County), the boat was christened with a bottle of beer, Arcega's helpers were dispatched to their surfboards and inflatables, and in he went. The launch itself was nerve-racking, involving additions to the ballast, repair of the rudder, and quarreling dogs onshore. Boats full of oyster farmers motored past, staring. But with the aid of supporters (many of whom sported the Raskolnikov-in-a-T-shirt look so popular lately), Arcega was eventually sailing a boat made of Manila folders through Tomales Bay.
Several weeks later, drinking beer with friends, Arcega sketches the direction of the Pacific Ocean's tidal currents on a scrap of paper, his manner the same as it was at the launch: relaxed, funny, full of wordplay, but suffused with the kind of singular intensity that makes a guy spend four months building a boat out of folders. Arcega, who was born in Manila but moved to Los Angeles when he was 10, outlines the geopolitical history he sought to invoke during his voyage. "Manila galleons, from the 16th through the 18th centuries, took culture and commerce back and forth between Mexico and the Philippines and here, and I wanted to sort of show that," he says, his scruffy good looks and friendly features bespeaking an inner Don Quixote. "So El Conquistadork had to be sailed and it turned out to be this '80s art 'happening'-type event. I get off on the idea of emasculating a powerful symbol like the conquistador, the conquerors of continents."
El Conquistadork lives on. The boat is now at Lucky Tackle Gallery in Oakland, the center of an exhibit called "Divide and Concur," which includes a mural of an explorer-style map showing Arcega's route across Tomales Bay, a coat of arms also made of Manila folders, and our personal favorite item, the Captain's Log a wordplay-inspired listening device that looks like a piece of poop. Prodded by Adam Rompel, the gallery owner, we put our ear to the convincingly shitlike apparatus.
"Captain's log, 12:30 (a las dos y media)," Arcega narrates from within, over the sounds of sea gulls, church bells, and wind. Sounding defeated, he exclaims: "Mas problemas! The coño oarlocks have broke. We must get towed." The turd wittily narrates the entire voyage, and after a while, we realize how much easier it is to make jokes in Spanglish because there are twice as many potential obscenities. Then we remember, with a start, that we're holding a fake dookie against our ear the joke, indeed, is on us. (Hiya Swanhuyser)
Is There a Doctor in the House? Oh, Wait, He's Drunk.: Keith Villa, aka "Dr. Beer," is a master brewer at Coors. He got his prestigious-sounding nickname after earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry as a way of enhancing his brewing skills. Villa, 41, recently created Aspen Edge, a low-carb beer for Coors that just hit San Francisco, and we couldn't pass up the chance to pick the good doctor's brain about a life spent in suds.
Dog Bites: How did you become a brewer?
Keith Villa: I was going to [the University of Colorado at Boulder] as an undergraduate, and was originally planning to become a medical doctor. I was home-brewing at the same time. I had done lab work on bacteria and yeast. Coors was looking for a researcher who could work with yeast, fermentation, and the brewing process. I had to ask myself whether I liked working with sick people or beer better. I liked working with beer.
DB: So they call you Dr. Beer.
Villa: Coors sent me to get my doctorate at the University of Brussels in Belgium, from 1988 to 1992. So now people call me Dr. Beer.
DB: Belgium isn't that where they have the Trappist monks who brew beer? Did you hang out with them?
Villa: Yes! They brew beer in their abbeys. I did hang out with some of the monks. It would be fun to be a monk, but I'm married.
DB: I've always wondered how can you be a monk, but make beer? That just seems ... weird.
Villa: Well, there's actually a lot of history there, because they follow the rule of St. Benedict, where they have to earn their living with their hands. So they make cheese, beer, and bread, and sell it. And when people traveled during the Middle Ages on religious pilgrimages, they would stop in at abbeys and monasteries, and the monks were obliged to give these people food and drink.
DB: Did you encounter any hurdles when developing Aspen Edge? Any weird tastes that came up in the process?
Villa: Well, "off-notes" in beers can include a buttery note. Another off-note you might encounter is sulfury off-notes ones that might smell like cabbage or lunch meat. That was definitely something I wanted to avoid.
DB: So you got your Ph.D. to make beer. What were the parties like in that kind of graduate program?
Villa: Well, Belgians they're really special people. Very nice and very friendly. They obviously like beer. So at the parties there was always a lot of it. Most parties were either in French or Flemish. I had to learn both languages.
DB: How do you say Aspen Edge in Flemish?
Villa: You'd just say Aspen Edge. (Lessley Anderson)
You Know You're in San Francisco When...
Kids get catering at summer camp
Kid Chow, a Noe Valley business that delivers lunches to San Francisco schoolchildren, now also serves some Bay Area summer camps. From the menu for the Bay Area Discovery Museum Summer Camp:
Over the Rainbow Bagel
Plain bagel, rainbow-colored cream cheese
Seaside Turkey Sandwich
Sea star-shaped Diestal turkey or Tofurkey veggie sandwich
Butterfly-shaped almond butter sandwich
Independence Day Yogurt Parfait
Brown Cow or Wallaby yogurt with "mixins" of choice
Vegetarian sushi, six pieces. Choices: avocado, spinach, carrot, cucumber, tofu
Tofu Teriyaki Kebabs
Wildwood teriyaki tofu with red bell peppers and pineapple
Beach Party Crudite and Dips
With ranch dressing and/or hummus
Lightly salted steamed soybeans, in pod
Summer Dippin' Chips and Dips
Organic tortilla chips with salsa and/or guacamole
Tropical Fruit Kebabs
Seasonal organic summer fruit on skewers
Stonyfield Yosqueeze Yogurt
Sunshine Trail Mix
Yogurt raisins, dried blueberries, almonds, sunflower seeds, and honey-sesame sticks (John Mecklin)