By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Can you feel it, San Francisco? The weather's getting warmer, the sun is lasting longer, and spring is officially upon us. As Dog Bites enjoyed another glorious weekend in the city, trying to keep "The Theme From 'A Summer Place'" out of our head, we found ourself ruminating on the endless delights of fun in the sun. This week, a trio of correspondents weighs in with tales of the open sea, summer camp, and beer – what better way to shake off a long, cold winter?
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 boatat 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 Conquistadorkhad 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 Conquistadorklives 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)