Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lindsay Kemp's Virgin Queen comes to Japan

Special to The Japan Times

It was a scorching day in July and the air in Tokyo's concrete jungle was shimmering in the heat. But on a visit here prior to next month's opening of his voluptuous production "Elizabeth I: the Last Dance" at Theatre Cocoon, avant-garde performance-art icon Lindsay Kemp — a self-described "stranger in a strange land" back home in England — appeared quite at ease, as perhaps befits a longtime resident of the hotter climes of Italy and Spain.

News photo
Madcap queen: Lindsay Kemp's Queen Elizabeth I romps with Mary, Queen of Scots COURTESY OF TATE CORPORATION

With his sparkling, impish eyes, his lovely smile and expressive hand movements, this 70-year-old, sporting a light cotton jinbei summer kimono, immediately brought to vibrant life a cozy meeting room in a Shibuya gallery currently showing his art work, as he made his entrance.

Fresh from a stroll around the eclectic back streets of Shibuya, this multitalented man, who has told some interviewers that his birthplace is Birkenhead in northwest England but others that it is South Shields in the northeast, was soon talking of how he began taking ballet lessons at age 4, "Billy Elliot"-style, with the secret support of his mother and against the wishes of his father, a merchant sailor who was lost at sea in 1940.

It was after Kemp left a boarding school in England, though — where he has described dancing as Oscar Wilde's "Salome" in his dormitory clad in no more than a few sheets of toilet paper — that Kemp first made his mark, when he moved to London in the 1950s to join the legendary Ballet Rambert as a dancer. He later founded his own Lindsay Kemp Company there in 1962 — just as the socio-cultural phenomenon of the Swinging '60s was about to take off. Before long his company's androgynous performances were the talk of the town, as startled critics mulled them sagely and audiences flocked to the shows, which he danced in, choreographed and directed.

News photo
Kemp goofs around for The Japan Times at a Shibuya gallery. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Then, in 1968, Kemp's fame spread nationwide following his company's triumphant appearance that year at the famed Edinburgh Festival. His reach extended further still in the early '70s, when he got together again with David Bowie, who'd first sung with his troupe in 1967, to direct the glam-rocker's "Ziggy Stardust" shows.

After close-on 50 years in showbiz, it wasn't his colorful history that Kemp was in Tokyo to talk about, but his original, spectacular tale of England's so-called Virgin Queen, the decidedly amorous Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), told in dance, mime, music and outrageously stunning costumes. Kemp himself takes the title role, as well as directing and undertaking both the stage and lighting design.

"Since I was a child, I have had a passion for Elizabeth I," Kemp declares with wistful ardor lighting his face. "In fact, really, it's a passion for her and also that glorious Elizabethan era of beauty, poetry, music and Shakespeare. I have been attracted all my life by everything Elizabeth represented — but most especially by her extreme personal theatricality and her passion. This stage is a story about her life, and it's told in fragments beginning at the end of her life and then through a series of flashbacks to her most memorable episodes — but mostly ones to do with her great loves, the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Essex."

News photo

In fact, Kemp confided that his love affair with the Virgin Queen — one of the most famous women in all of history — started courtesy of his greatest supporter of all, and his "heroine" (along with Isadora Duncan): his mother.

"When I was a child, my mother took me to a 1939 movie that Bette Davis was in, titled 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.' Bette was the Virgin Queen, and I was not just influenced by the beauty of her clothes and that culture, but by the magnificence of the swashbuckling drama, with its sea battles and murders, for example. It was all so action-packed.

"However, it wasn't until recently that I realized Elizabeth's clothes have been waiting for me to step into. So, this is the right time: At my age now, I've reached exactly the right time to play this ailing Elizabeth."

"Elizabeth I: the Last Dance" premiered to critical and popular acclaim three years ago in Spain after Kemp created it together with regular, close collaborators Sandy Powell, his costume designer (and former student) who won Oscars for 1999's "Shakespeare in Love" and 2005's "The Aviator"; and Chilean composer Carlos Miranda, his long-term business partner.

"This production," Kemp declares, beaming with enough radiance to light half of Tokyo, "will be full of my color and my trademark of 'total theater' — probably more total than previously." Total theater refers to the practice of mixing different theatrical elements, such as dance, mime and, in this case, opera.

"Moreover, as it was conceived as a form of dance and opera in the first place, singing will be much more prominent than (in my previous productions). There's lots of dancing, singing and drama, and spectacular effects with imaginative projected images as well. I hope you enjoy it," he adds rather humbly.

As if to excuse himself further, he continues: "It doesn't have any of those spectacular effects like in Andrew Lloyd Webber-type commercial musicals. I don't like that very much, nor do I care for the theater of technology, and I don't much care for (the fact) that that kind of theater has replaced the theater of human hearts — the theater of life and passion and real magic. What I bring to the theater I would hope is a real love, a real passion. It is spectacularly emotional and it is also spectacularly beautiful."

Although Elizabeth I is a major figure in European history, she is not so familiar to Japanese audiences. So was Kemp worried that his Virgin Queen (aka Good Queen Bess) may be spurned on these shores?

"Well, you see, I have this possibility, because my talent is to be able to connect with people everywhere. I feel very much part of everyone, but particularly with the Japanese, who have always been my greatest audience and seem to understand me the most. Also, my language of music and dance is very much universal. Furthermore, the story of Elizabeth is really a romantic, universal story. So, I trust the Japanese audience."

Kemp's first official stage appearance in Japan was in his 1986 masterpiece "A Midsummer Night's Dream" — a dance production that remains a legend to this day; a staging so powerful that long after the encores most audience members remained in their seats, stunned by its huge artistic impact. Many critics wrote that they had never before seen a production that boasted such original artistic flair.

Following that, he brought his company to Japan in each of the next 10 years. Interestingly, though, he reveals that his first "unofficial" performance here was at a shrine "somewhere in Tokyo" when he stopped over to visit a friend in 1976 on his way back home from an Australian tour. On that occasion, as they walked past the shrine, they were beckoned inside by a priest who served them sake. But when the priest found out that Kemp was a dancer, he asked for an impromptu performance, and Kemp obliged by returning that evening to perform an improvisation accompanied by Japanese musicians.

News photo
Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester

Since that welcoming creative encounter, it seems Kemp — whose sailor father first introduced him to Japan through fans and kimono he brought home from his voyages — has, as he put it, "always felt at home here, as if it is a place for me."

But after having been away for 13 years, how does he like what he finds here now?

"Tokyo nowadays — at least in Shibuya — seems to have a more liberated atmosphere than last time I was here," he says. "Everyone seems to be so well dressed and there's a fun, festive feeling, and people seem to have more individuality in their appearance and don't look as conservative as they used to."

With another of his smiles, he adds: "Perhaps I had a small influence on them; so one day, someone in all-white makeup will come up to me and say, 'It's your fault, Lindsay!' "

If that were ever to occur, it would certainly delight this artist, who explains his motivation for dance creation by saying, "It's probably always been the same since I started — I would like to give pleasure. I want to inspire and to encourage people to dream their own dreams. Really, this way they can maybe change their own lives for the better. Nothing too grandiose; I really just like to bring a smile to people either here or in the street or in the theater. I also like people when they leave the theater to be very liberated. That, I think, is my intention — to liberate, to liberate."

As for his own future liberation movements, this dance revolutionary confesses: "I have no plan for a future production at the moment — like Picasso said, 'I don't seek; I find.' I'm waiting for another dress for me to step into, like I experienced with Elizabeth I this time. But I am enjoying today so much that I hardly think about tomorrow. I'm very much a rock 'n' roller in that respect.

"But really, to be honest, what takes me to the stage is only that I need to be loved — and I need to give love through my performance."

"Elizabeth I: the Last Dance" runs Oct. 4-13 at Theatre Cocoon, an 8-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo. For more details, call the theater on (03) 3477-999 or visit Lindsay Kemp's drawing exhibition "Elizabeth I" runs Oct. 4-13 at Poster Haris Gallery, an 8-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo. For more details, call the gallery on (080) 2033-0499 or visit

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dig pinpoints Stonehenge origins

By James Morgan
Science reporter, BBC News


The excavation is documented in a BBC Timewatch special

Archaeologists have pinpointed the construction of Stonehenge to 2300BC - a key step to discovering how and why the mysterious edifice was built.

The radiocarbon date is said to be the most accurate yet and means the ring's original bluestones were put up 300 years later than previously thought.

The dating is the major finding from an excavation inside the henge by Profs Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright.

The duo found evidence suggesting Stonehenge was a centre of healing.

Others have argued that the monument was a shrine to worship ancestors, or a calendar to mark the solstices.

A documentary following the progress of the recent dig has been recorded by the BBC Timewatch series. It will be broadcast on Saturday 27 September.

Date demand

For centuries, archaeologists have marvelled at the construction of Stonehenge, which lies on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

Mineral analysis indicates that the original circle of bluestones was transported to the plain from a site 240km (150 miles) away, in the Preseli hills, South Wales.

This extraordinary feat suggests the stones were thought to harbour great powers.

The dig was the first inside the ring since 1946

Professors Darvill and Wainwright believe that Stonehenge was a centre of healing - a "Neolithic Lourdes", to which the sick and injured travelled from far and wide, to be healed by the powers of the bluestones.

They note that "an abnormal number" of the corpses found in tombs nearby Stonehenge display signs of serious physical injury and disease.

And analysis of teeth recovered from graves show that "around half" of the corpses were from people who were "not native to the Stonehenge area".

"Stonehenge would attract not only people who were unwell, but people who were capable of [healing] them," said Professor Darvill, of Bournemouth University.

"Therefore, in a sense, Stonehenge becomes 'the A & E' of southern England."

Modern techniques

But without a reliable carbon date for the construction of Stonehenge, it has been difficult to establish this, or any other, theory.

Until now, the consensus view for the date of the first stone circle was anywhere between 2600BC and 2400BC.

To cement the date once and for all, Professors Darvill and Wainwright were granted permission by English Heritage to excavate a patch of earth just 2.5m x 3.5m, in between the two circles of giant sarsen stones.

In the stone socket
The key was to get organic matter from the bluestone sockets

The dig unearthed about 100 pieces of organic material from the original bluestone sockets, now buried under the monument. Of these, 14 were selected to be sent for modern carbon dating, at Oxford University.

The result - 2300BC - is the most reliable date yet for the erection of the first bluestones.

Strictly speaking, the result was rounded down to "between 2400BC and 2200BC" - but 2300BC is taken as the average.

An even more precise date will be produced in the coming months.

"It's an incredible feeling, a dream come true," said Professor Wainwright, formerly chief archaeologist at English Heritage.

"We told the world we were going to date Stonehenge. That was a risk, but I was always confident," said Professor Darvill.


The archaeologists reveal the first accurate carbon date for Stonehenge

Intriguingly, the date range ties in closely with the date for the burial of the so-called "Amesbury Archer", whose tomb was discovered three miles from Stonehenge.

Some archaeologists believe the Archer is the key to understanding why Stonehenge was built.

Analyses of his corpse and artefacts from his grave indicate he was a wealthy and powerful man, with knowledge of metal working, who had travelled to Salisbury from Alpine Europe, for reasons unknown.

Post mortem examinations show that he suffered from both a serious knee injury and a potentially fatal dental problem, leading Darvill and Wainwright to conclude that the Archer came to Stonehenge to be healed.

But without an accurate date for Stonehenge, it was not even clear whether the temple existed while the Archer was alive.

His remains have been dated between 2500BC and 2300BC - within the same period that the first stone circle was erected.

"It's quite extraordinary that the date of the Amesbury Archer is identical with our new date for the bluestones of Stonehenge," said Professor Darvill.

"These two things happening within living memory of each other for sure is something very, very important."

Earliest occupation

Professor Wainwright added: "Was the Amesbury Archer, as some have suggested, the person responsible for the building of Stonehenge? I think the answer to that is almost certainly 'no'.

"But did he travel there to be healed? Did he limp, or was he carried, all the way from Switzerland to Wiltshire, because he had heard of the miraculous healing properties of Stonehenge? 'Yes, absolutely'.

"Tim and I are quite convinced that people went to Stonehenge to get well. But Stonehenge probably had more than one purpose, so I have no problem with other people's interpretations."

All theories about Stonehenge must follow an accurate dating

Among other key finds, the team uncovered organic material that indicates people inhabited the Stonehenge site as long ago as 7200BC - more than 3,500 years earlier than anything previously known.

They also found that bluestone chippings outnumbered sarsen stone chippings by three to one - which Wainwright takes to be a sign of their value.

"It could be that people were flaking off pieces of bluestone, in order to create little bits to take away... as lucky amulets," he said.

The duo are preparing to publish an academic report of their excavation, and will announce their findings to their peers next month, in a lecture at London's Society of Antiquaries.

Ongoing debate

Experts on Stonehenge said the new date was a major milestone in understanding Britain's most famous monument.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said: "This is a great result - a very important one.

"The date of Stonehenge had been blowing in the wind. But this anchors it. It helps us to be secure about the chronology of events.

Darvill and Wainwright
Profs Darvill and Wainwright believe their ideas hold true

"The theory that it was a centre of healing is certainly a plausible one, but I don't think we can rule out the other main competing theory - that the temple was a meeting point between the land of the living and the dead.

"I am not yet persuaded that the Amesbury Archer came to Stonehenge to be healed. I favour the interpretation that he was one of the earliest metal workers, who travelled to the area to make a living from his skills.

"In any case, it is still not clear if his burial predated Stonehenge."

Dave Batchelor, Stonehenge curator at English Heritage, said: "We are pleased that the professors' precision in targeting that small area of turf and their rigorous standards in archaeological excavations have produced such a rich collection of physical evidence.

"We are looking forward to seeing the results of the full analysis, but from what we understand so far, we believe they have added valuable information to the chronology of Stonehenge."

The BBC Timewatch special is broadcast on BBC Two at 2005 BST on Saturday 27 September

My dad is Paul Weller and yes, I'm a fella... despite the lashings of lipgloss

By Laura Roberts
Last updated at 11:19 PM on 23rd September 2008

Paul Weller might be known as the Modfather, but his son has found a style all of his own.

The singer's eldest child, 20-year-old Natt Weller, showed off a distinctly androgynous look at London's Bungalow 8 nightclub, with straightened hair and lashings of lip gloss.

He has inherited his exotic looks from his 47-year-old mother, Dee C Lee, a former backing singer with the Style Council. But Natt - full name Nathaniel - also shares his 50-year-old father's love of music.

Nat Weller
Paul Weller

Natt Weller out and about in London this week, left, and his father Paul Weller

He is forging a career as a glam rocker and recently described himself as 'a mix between Victoria Beckham and Marilyn Manson'.

Stylish: Paul Weller and his now ex-wife, Dee C Lee

Stylish: Paul Weller and his now ex-wife, Dee C Lee

Natt, who says he has worn make-up since the age of 15, makes a point of accentuating his feminine features.

He once admitted: 'I had laser hair removal on my face - I never want a beard - and that hurt much more than a tattoo.'

Natt has acknowledged that his glamorous appearance inevitably leads to questions over his sexuality.

But he said last year: 'Of course I'm not gay. I don't have a girlfriend, but I get a lot of boy and girl attention.

'I don't mind. Real men wear make-up.'

He added that his father is unfazed by his appearance.

'The only time my dad said anything was when I shaved my eyebrows off and started drawing them on. He didn't get it.'

Natt poses at the Hilfiger Sessions London last night

Natt poses at the Hilfiger Sessions London last night

Turkish singer defiant in court

Bulent Ersoy arrives at a court house in Istanbul on 24 September 2008
Bulent Ersoy said she had the right to express her thoughts freely

A popular Turkish singer has defended public statements that Turkey's long conflict with Kurdish rebels needs a solution - not more deaths.

Bulent Ersoy made her comments at a court hearing in Istanbul, after being charged with attempting to turn the public against military service.

The transsexual singer also suggested that if she had a son she would not send him to fight.

If found guilty, she faces up to four-and-a-half years in prison.

Ms Ersoy made her comments about Turkey's powerful military on television last February.

The Turkish army was conducting a major operation against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq at the time.

Some 40,000 people have died since the conflict with the PKK began in 1984.

Defiant stance

Ms Ersoy arrived at court in her usual, flamboyant style - dressed in white flowing linen, golden gem-studded sandals and matching accessories, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford, who was present at the trial.

Even if they hang me, I'll keep talking
Bulent Ersoy

As photographers surrounded her, a few supporters held up signs reading Long live the Diva, our correspondent says.

The prosecutor accuses Bulent Ersoy of making dangerous propaganda for the PKK, describing military service as the "sacred duty" of every Turk.

But Ms Ersoy told the judge she had committed no crime.

The singer said she stood by her words and her right to express her thoughts freely - as a loyal citizen of her country.

"Even if they hang me, I'll keep talking," she said.

It was a defiant stance, but this case has exposed the limits on free speech in Turkey once again - a country whose military remains extremely powerful, its reputation and actions protected from criticism by law, our correspondent says.

Ms Ersoy did not show up in court when the trial opened in June, saying she had to attend a concert.

'Risky business'

Ms Ersoy is Turkey's best known diva, adored across the country, our correspondent says.

She was already one of the country's most popular male singers when in 1981 she underwent a sex change operation.

But questioning the Turkish military can be a risky business, our correspondent says.

Article 318 of the penal code - dissuading people from military service - is frequently used by the military against its critics.

Meanwhile critics say a separate article, making it a crime to insult the Turkish nation and its institutions, is used to stifle free speech.

Neanderthals 'enjoyed broad menu'

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Neanderthal (NHM)
The simplistic image of Neanderthals is slowly changing

It seems Neanderthals enjoyed a wide range of foods - a much broader menu than had previously been supposed.

Excavations in caves in Gibraltar once occupied by the ancient humans show they ate seal and dolphin when they could get hold of the animals.

There are even indications that mussels were warmed to open their shells.

The findings, reported in the journal PNAS, give the lie to the popular view that Neanderthals ate a diet utterly dominated by meat from land animals.

This is yet another difference that had been proposed between Neanderthals and moderns which now disappears
Prof Chris Stringer
Natural History Museum, London
It is one more example of the greater sophistication now being ascribed to Homo neanderthalensis; and further complicates the story of how modern humans (Homo sapiens) out-competed and out-lived their evolutionary cousins.

"Moderns still had a more efficient way of extracting the maximum out of the environment compared with the Neanderthals," said lead author Chris Stringer from London's Natural History Museum.

"So there still is an element of superiority, but it is a much more finely balanced one now. This is yet another difference that had been proposed between Neanderthals and moderns which now disappears," he told BBC News.

Bone product

Professor Stringer and colleagues have been investigating the fossil material from a number of seaside excavation sites in Vanguard and Gorham's Caves in eastern Gibraltar.

Monk seal (NHM)
Seal bones indicate they were making good use of what was around them

The cave deposits are throwing up a rich array of Neanderthal artefacts, demonstrating that Homo sapiens were not the only ones to live off the sea.

It has been known from earlier work that Neanderthals would eat some shellfish when available, but the Gibraltar study is the first to show the exploitation of marine mammals.

"We've got a shoulder blade of a seal with cut marks on it and we've got parts of the bones from a flipper with cut marks," explained Professor Stringer.

"These Neanderthals were skinning and dismembering seals. What's interesting is that they didn't always cook them; they often ate them raw, it seems.

"They were also heating bones, not to cook the meat but to get at the marrow inside. By putting bones in fires, they were making them more brittle so they could get them open more easily."

On the menu also was dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), probably dead animals that had washed up on the beach. Monk seals (Monachus monachus), on the other hand, were most likely juveniles clubbed to death at breeding grounds and then taken back to the caves to be butchered.

In Neanderthal times, sea-levels were lower than today

By analysing the different types, or isotopes, of atoms incorporated into Neanderthal bones as a result of the foods they ate, it is possible to glimpse something of their lifestyle.

In northern Europe, particularly, it is clear that big game meat - mammoth, deer, horse - dominated the Neanderthal menu.

The isotopes from early modern humans, by comparison, show a much broader range of foods - they were eating small grain, they were fowling and fishing.

This has been used to help explain Neanderthal extinction: H. neanderthalensis may have struggled at times to get the most out of their environment and could be out-competed by moderns.

The latest research, by demonstrating the exploitation of seal and dolphin, shows the extinction story is a little more complicated - at least as far as Gibraltar is concerned, believes Professor Stringer.

Neanderthal tools (NHM)
The caves are among the most important Neanderthal sites in Europe

"We can't generalise to all Neanderthal populations, because the further north you go, away from the coast, you won't have those resources," he told BBC News.

The Gibraltar caves also contain hearths and flint stone tools, as well as butchered land mammals such as ibex (Capra ibex), red deer (Cervus elaphus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), bear (Ursus arctos) and rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

The remains of mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) are also evident. These are found in ash and are scorched - clear evidence that they were cooked near a fire to open them.

The caves in Gibraltar may be among the very last places Neanderthals lived before they became extinct.

Analysis of charcoal remains from the hearths indicates the species was present 28,000 years ago, and perhaps as recently as 24,000 years ago.

The excavation of the caves is a collaborative project between several institutes, including London's NHM, Gibraltar Museum, and the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid.

Pictured: The punk rock turtle with a bright green mohawk

By Wil Longbottom
Last updated at 12:00 PM on 26th September 2008

He may be an endangered species, but this turtle clearly has attitude.

The punk rock-loving Mary River Turtle was photographed in the Mary River near Kenilworth, Australia sporting a fetching bright green mohawk.

But the attractive specimen, who has one blue eye, wasn't making a political protest - his green hairdo is just algae growing on his head.

punk turtle

Shell shocked: The Mary River Turtle is having a Green Day, but his hairdo is just algae growing on his head

punk turtle

The Mary River Turtle has become a popular figure with environmentalists who say the endangered creature is being further threatened by Queensland State Government's plans to build a dam on the river.

It is one of the more unusual species of turtles as it breathes through lung-like structures in its tail and needs shallow water to survive.

The hairsute creature was captured by amateur photographer Chris Van Wyk as it quietly waded in the shallows.

punk turtle

King of the river: The turtle wades through the water looking for his next meal

punk turtle

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Dressing up and stripping bare

The Daily Advertiser reporter Cody Daigle is cast as the lead in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Here, he's made the transition from Cody to Hedwig.

The Daily Advertiser reporter Cody Daigle is cast as the lead in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Here, he's made the transition from Cody to Hedwig. (Claudia B. Laws/

Cody Daigle • • September 26, 2008

"Acting is not about dressing up. It's about stripping bare." - Glenda Jackson

I've been an actor for almost 14 years, and in the whole of my stage experience, I'd never been asked to do full-on theatrical drag. I'd done shows where I'd played women, but it was always the winking, "I don't expect you to believe I'm a woman, so you'll forgive the lousy drag attempt" kind of drag.

But a few months ago, local director and designer Duncan Thistletwaite called me and asked me if I'd be interested in taking on a musical.

I hadn't been in a musical in almost three years, so I eagerly asked which show he had in mind.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch," he said. "Know it?"

Almost 10 years ago, my best friend and fellow actor Cara Hayden gave me a copy of the Hedwig score as a gift. She's found it in a discount bin for $2.

At the time, I had zero interest in the show. All I knew was it was some rock show about a German transvestite, and for a musical theater snob like myself, that spelled trouble. But, I graciously accepted the gift, thinking I'd give it a listen then add it to a shelf where it would collect dust.

From the crunching first chords of the show's opening number Tear Me Down, I was hooked. The Hedwig score pulsed with a vitality that I wasn't prepared for. Yes, it was a rock score, but it was a rock score with a defiantly musical theater sensibility. Theatrical, playful, clever and ultimately deeply moving, Hedwig and the Angry Inch became one of my favorite musicals.

And Hedwig was a role I swore to myself I'd play if I ever got the chance.

Throughout the rehearsal process for this show, we've constructed Hedwig in parts. First, we went shoe shopping and scored an eye-popping pair of five-inch red platform heels that look like something out of Showgirls. Then, we consulted a former drag queen and designed a high drag makeup design (Hedwig's eyebrows are perilously close to her hairline). We had a denim-and-sequins outfit constructed with a skirt so short, I've been requested never to bend over in it. And it's all topped off with a platinum blond wig styled as a cross between 1980s prostitute and German house frau.

And all of these parts were being placed on a 6'2", 260 pound man with a preference for jeans and a earth-toned pullover.

Each piece, when I first put it on, felt like a shock. The foreignness of it was jarring, and it brought up dozens of concerns: How do I move in this? How do I keep my balance? Will this look real? Does this look remotely feminine?

But after a few moments, the shock wore away, and something unexpected happened. My weight shifted on my hips. My gestures went from being sharp and masculine to rounded and feminine. I'd extend my neck, arch my brow, and my usual semi-confident walk turned into the strut of a punk rock lead singer.

Suddenly, there was Hedwig.

That has been the most interesting thing I've learned in the process of becoming Hedwig: Every addition is really a subtraction.

Everything I put on - the makeup, the false eyelashes, the wig, the pantyhose, the high heels - takes me one step further away from myself. And each step away brings me closer to Hedwig.

In a nutshell, Hedwig is a character stuck between two worlds. Born a boy named Hansel in communist East Berlin, a botched sex change operation and a shotgun marriage to an American GI left Hedwig genderless and alone in the Midwest. Now, with her band the Angry Inch, Hedwig travels the country performing gigs in seedy dives and telling her life story in an attempt to make some sense of who she is.

Every night, the character puts on the Hedwig drag, just as I do. And for both us, it causes a transformation. We both leave behind whoever we were in the past and we step out on stage.

The lights come up, and the music begins.

And all that's left is the glitter, the makeup, the hair and the heels.

And the beating heart of Hedwig stripped bare underneath.

Foreign national ID card unveiled

id card explainer
Anti-forgery measures include colour changes when tilted, embedded ultra-violet design and other features visible only from certain angles

The first identity cards from the government's controversial national scheme have been unveiled.

The biometric card will be issued from November, initially to non-EU students and marriage visa holders.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the cards would allow people to "easily and securely prove their identity".

Critics say the roll-out to some immigrants is a "softening up" exercise for the introduction of identity cards for everyone.

The card will also include information on holders' immigration status.

"We want to be able to prevent those here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain," she said.

Employers and colleges want to be confident people are who they say they are, she said, and immigration and police officers want to verify identity and detect abuse.

"We all want to see our borders more secure, and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled. ID cards for foreign nationals, in locking people to one identity, will deliver in all these areas," she added.

The UK Border Agency will begin issuing the biometric cards to the two categories of foreign nationals who officials say are most at risk of abusing immigration rules - students and those on a marriage or civil partnership visa.

How an identity card will work

Both types of migrants will be told they must have the new card when they ask to extend their stay in the country.

The cards partly replace a paper-based system of immigration stamps - but will now include the individual's name and picture, their nationality, immigration status and two fingerprints.

Immigration officials will store the details centrally and, in time, they are expected to be merged into the proposed national identity register.

The card cannot be issued to people from most parts of Europe because they have the right to move freely in and out of the UK.

The Conservatives oppose the UK's identity card scheme but say they support the use of biometric information in immigration documents.

Students and marriage applicants first
Others to follow over coming decade
50,000 cards by next April
Costs £311m to 2018
Visa charges to cover costs

"The Government are kidding themselves if they think ID cards for foreign nationals will protect against illegal immigration or terrorism - since they don't apply to those coming here for less than three months," said shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve.

Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Chris Huhne said identity cards "remained a grotesque intrusion on the liberty of the British people" and the scheme "will prove to be a laminated Poll Tax".

"The government is using vulnerable members of our society, like foreign nationals who do not have the vote, as guinea pigs for a deeply unpopular and unworkable policy," he said.

SNP Home Affairs spokesman Pete Wishart MP said his party had opposed ID cards from the outset but the government's "abysmal record on data protection" was reason enough to cancel them.

He said the government looked "absurd" for pushing ahead with such a costly project.

The Home Office is trying to salami slice the population to get this scheme going in any way they can
Phil Booth, No2ID
"These cards will not make our communities more secure, they will not reduce the terrorist threat and they will not make public services more efficient," said Mr Wishart.

Phil Booth, head of the national No2ID campaign group, attacked the roll-out of the cards as a "softening-up exercise".

"The Home Office is trying to salami slice the population to get this scheme going in any way they can," Mr Booth told the BBC.

"Once they get some people to take the card it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"The volume of foreign nationals involved is minuscule so it won't do anything to tackle illegal immigration."

But Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK said the cards should be supported.

"We welcome the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals as part of wider measures to tackle illegal immigration," he said. "These reforms are essential if we are to restore order to our immigration system as the public certainly wish to see."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Skloot & Kuan-yin

Aphrodisiacs Anonymous

Violet Blue thinks SF's aphrodisiac festival is sure to arouse, and asks chefs how

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Got any space in your copulation calendar for some sexually stimulating food? When I first heard about next Monday's A Food Affaire, I thought whoa -- an aphrodisiac feast and intentionally flirty atmosphere event -- in San Francisco? As if ramping up the sexiness of The City were even possible, or practical: With so much sexual energy here, such a thing might cause too much friction between space and time, or attract a meteor to smack our Sodom by the Bay. Just to get a piece of the action, at the very least. On Monday, Sept. 22, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) presents A Food Affaire: Twenty of San Francisco's finest chefs are going to make the most sexually arousing ingestibles they can imagine. The epicenter of all this delicious decadence will be Ruby Skye, but there's no doubt that next Monday that particular kitchen's heat will be felt by denizens citywide.

I'm not concerned; OK, I'm a little worried that it'll spoil (NSFW) Folsom (or that some impatient couple will use rose-petal Jell-O as lube in the washroom). But I'm really excited to see what our city's chefs come up with when their wildest aphrodisiac imaginations get to come out and play for a night.

Aphrodisiacs are ingestibles -- foods, liquids, herbs, edibles, lickables -- that enhance or possibly cause sexual arousal. We all know that sexual arousal starts in the brain (most of the time), so it's a no-brainer that if you believe that chocolate will make you mindlessly horny, even the suggestion that it might, will do the trick (right before you do the trick).

But do they really get more than your heart pumping? A nice banana certainly holds an intriguing promise, at least visually (for some of us). Besides the visual, the aphrodisiac is in some instances considered to be somewhat medicinal in nature, acting on the body through physical means -- such as stimulating blood flow to the genital regions. For instance, yohimbine is derived from the bark of an African evergreen tree, and while it's been traditionally used as a sexual stimulant in its place of origin, the NIH states that the standardized form of yohimbine (hydrochloride) has been shown in human studies to be effective in the treatment of male impotence and is available as a prescription medicine in the United States.

Studies and drugs aside, the taste, look and feel -- or even reputation -- of an aphrodisiac is the key to its alleged sexual powers. And there may be something to all of it: For instance, chocolate has been linked to raising serotonin levels in the brain (feel-good chemicals). And it gets melty, and slippery, which could be a lot of fun if applied directly to affected areas. Of course, you could just watch The Food Affaire 2008 video (shot on the streets of San Francisco) and get totally teased.

The term "aphrodisiac" is of course derived from the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, so A Food Affaire could be seen as a ritual d'amour -- which it may very well be for the select chefs putting thought and effort into what they're saucing, kneading and serving up. I caught up with one of the top San Francisco chefs participating in the event, the esteemed Tim Luym, executive chef of Poleng Lounge, who exclaimed, "I'm excited to see the creative ways the chefs are going to incorporate aphrodisiacs into their food at the event." I asked him what his own devious plans for this feast of Cupid's cuisine were...

Violet Blue: What will you be making for the event?

Tim Luym: I will be making a spicy Balinese lemongrass satay sampi.

VB:What gives your dish the power to arouse?

TL: The dish will arouse the senses in two ways. Visually, the shape of the satay is rather phallic -– resembling that of the male reproductive organ. The visual aspect is used to attract and catch attention. The other is the mental stimulation factor. There are more than a dozen spices and other ingredients pounded into the spice paste that is mixed with the meat. The most powerful spice that releases the endorphins are the red Fresno and Thai chili peppers. Peppers are natural stimulants-–that is why many people are "addicted" to the heat, as it makes them feel good.

VB: Is there anything at Poleng you'd recommend especially for lovers?

TL: Poleng is a great place for lovers. The small, shared plates creates intimate interaction between people, the loungy music sets the sultry vibe. Lovers should definitely try some of the tea-infused elixirs like the calamantini or sparkling sakes. If you really want to heat things up, go for the emperor's cup (60 oz of your favorite elixir!).

VB: Does the ordinary person have a sex shop in their kitchen, and if so, what ingredients might someone have on hand to sex up a meal?

TL: Most ordinary people do have a "sex shop" in their kitchen. Just from some of the tools lying around I'm sure you can use your imagination. Regarding food though, the subject at hand, most people have many ingredients and elements already in their kitchen. Wine, chocolate, coffee, almonds, pistachios, various spices like nutmeg, chilis and peppers, avocados, bananas, strawberries, raspberries, figs, garlic, ginger, arugula, basil, asparagus, honey, vanilla extract are just some of the elements they can utilize for cooking sexy time dinner.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) will present A Food Affaire, Monday, Sept. 22, from 6:30pm to 10:00pm (VIP Event Begins at 6pm); Ruby Skye, 420 Mason Street; ticket price is $150 VIP or $100 for general admission, per person. For more information, visitfoodaffaire.comor call 415.781.5348. Although the event is aimed to arouse and excite, guests might get a little extra excited to know that A Food Affaire benefits the GGRA's Scholarship Foundation, providing students with scholarships to help fund their tuition towardscareers in restaurantsand hospitality.

Moochie & Skloot


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some McCain fliers give wrong ballot mailing info

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin board that oversees elections is fielding complaints that Republican presidential nominee John McCain's campaign is sending out a mailing that includes an application for an absentee ballot -- but in some cases the address is wrong.

Democrat Beverly Jambois of Middleton got one of the fliers addressed to her husband Robert, a lawyer for the state Transportation Department. They're registered to vote in Middleton, but the absentee ballot application was addressed to the Madison city clerk's office.

"They're trying to knock me off the rolls," she said. "I can't tell you how upsetting it is to me. This is how you win elections? By disenfranchising other voters?"

Kyle Richmond, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, said there have been 10 complaints in the past two days from those who got the McCain flier. The board's staff is investigating, he said.

Absentee ballots may only be used in the locality where the person is registered to vote, he said.

Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state Republican Party, denied there was any intent to prevent people from voting. The wrong absentee ballot applications were the result of incorrect information in databases used for the mailing, he said.

"You do the best with the lists you have, and no list is perfect," Jefferson said. "There is certainly no type of suppression effort going on."

He said the mailing was directed to hundreds of thousands of voters.

Local clerks now are processing absentee voting applications. The absentee ballots aren't sent until about four weeks before the election.


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal,

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Text tattoos gaining popularity

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A poet with a laptop walks into a bar.

He orders a beer and begins scrolling Web sites of "literary tattoos."

He sees a man's back entirely inscribed with the first page of "Fight Club." The tattoo looks fresh, red and painful. He sees a woman holding aside her hair to show the nape of her neck, where this line by e.e. cummings - "be of love a little more careful than of anything" - appears on her freckled flesh. Then, with a sharp shock, he stops scrolling. He has come upon his own words, inked on skin.

Many living writers might have just this experience, including Bay Area poet Robert Hass, the UC Berkeley professor of English, winner of this year's National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and former poet laureate of the United States.

On the Web site, this line from Hass' poem "Meditation at Lagunitas" appears in blue script on a young woman's arm: "Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances."

San Francisco is a creative crucible for tattooing, piercing and other body art. It was North Beach visionary V. Vale, of RE/Search Publications, who named the trend in his 1989 book, "Modern Primitives," which the editors of the avant-garde North Beach publishing house called "an anthropological inquiry into a contemporary social enigma - the increasingly popular revival of ancient human decoration practices."

Since then, tattoos have emerged from the underground. In fact, they're mainstream. The styles are ever-evolving and, in recent years, "script" or text tattoos have gained in popularity.

"I've noticed more and more people with a bit of Dickinson or Kafka or Nietzsche somewhere on their bodies," said San Francisco poet Kim Addonizio. "It's natural that writers and literary readers would be drawn to commemorating some bit of language that has moved or changed them - or that maps a direction they want to go."

She co-edited the 2002 book "Dorothy Parker's Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos," a collection of work by Ray Bradbury, Sylvia Plath, Herman Melville, Flannery O'Connor, William T. Vollmann and others. (The title refers to a tiny star on Parker's arm.)

Message art form

Internationally known San Francisco tattoo artist and historian Lyle Tuttle attests to the popularity of "script or written-word" tattoos. It makes sense. "Tattooing is a message art form," said Tuttle, who once inked a 135-line poem on a chest. "Tattoos are exterior decorations for interior feeling."

A case in point is Beth Loster, 24, a San Francisco writer and waitress who was a student at UC Berkeley when she met a young man who said, "Hey, we have tattoos in the same font."

The text of her tattoo - "clad in the panoply of love" - came from "Science & Health" by Mary Baker Eddy. "I like the way the written word looks on the body," she said. "And that phrase made me feel safe." His tattoo, also in a "typewriter" typeface, was in Latin. (She can't recall the translation.)

The text of Loster's next tattoo was written by that young man, who had become her boyfriend. Before leaving for South America, where he was going to study, he left a note on her refrigerator that began, "this is on account of my loving you forever." That phrase - in the form of a tattoo - offered her comfort when he was killed in a car accident in Brazil.

"After he passed away, I got it for him," Loster said. The typeface is from one of the vintage manual typewriters she collects: "I typed it up and brought it in."

Several years have passed, and she is asked about it nearly every day. "I talk about his death more than I would normally," she said. "But that's good. It reminds me that something good happened and something bad happened and, somehow, it's all OK."

Acknowledging personal history is also the motivation behind the tattoos of Jon Woo, 29, manager of a sports shoe shop in San Francisco.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, he got his first tattoo - of his last name, in Chinese, on his left shoulder - when he was 17.

"At the time, tattoos weren't as widely accepted," he said. "I've watched the progression as tattoos have gone from taboo-esque to mainstream."

The one that sparks the most comment is a line on his arm, "As long as the world is turning and spinning, we're going to be dizzy and we're going to make mistakes," by comic and author Mel Brooks.

"I have tripped and fallen and picked myself up so many times," Woo said, explaining the tattoo's significance. "I wanted to get it somewhere where I could see it and others could see it."

"It's a statement to everybody, about my life, about everybody's life. People respect it," he added. "They read it and say, 'That's so true,' and it is."

Michaela Healy, 22, a cook in San Francisco, has been fascinated with tattoos since she was 10 years old, growing up in Encinitas, in San Diego County. That's when her older sister brought over a friend who had a tattoo of a huge tiki god on his shoulder. "I saw him the day he got it," she said.

Teenage tattoo

Before her 18th birthday, she got her own first tattoo - the name of her favorite band, the ska band No Doubt - on her upper back.

Since then, she's gotten others, but the one that stands out artistically is a color rendering of the cover of her favorite comic serial, "Strangers in Paradise," with art by Terry Moore.

"The cover tells the whole story of the book," Healy said. "Sex, drugs, government conspiracy, struggling with sexuality, mercenaries, assassins and, ultimately, love."

She doesn't mind being asked about her tattoos, which happens often. "That's OK," she said. "It's half the reason I have them. This is the art that I've chosen to put out there."

Illustrations from beloved books can have emotional power beyond words, as Ken Samuels, 44, a San Francisco bookseller, will attest.

On both arms, he has tattoos of illustrations from his favorite children's books, including Max from "Where the Wild Things Are," Harold from "Harold and the Purple Crayon," Peter from "The Snowy Day," Thelonious Monk from "Mysterious Thelonious" and Ferdinand the Bull.

"These books made me love reading," he said. "I loved the characters' persistence and creativity in the face of difficulties and their ultimately successful journeys home."

Samuels didn't get his first tattoo until he was in his mid-30s. "I became reacquainted with these books when my nephews were little boys," he said, "and I got the tattoos in tribute to them and their future journeys into the world."

Whether they inscribe themselves with words or illustrations, a good portion of San Francisco artists, book lovers and wordsmiths are likely to continue to find personal expression in tattoos.

Poet Addonizio - who has five tattoos, but no text yet - is discerning. She is taking her time.

"As soon as I find the right words," she said, "they'll be inked somewhere on my skin."

E-mail Heidi Benson at

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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