Arts & Culture » Culture

We're just a column who can't say no

by Roberto Friedman

René Magritte, "Son of Man" (1964), oil on canvas, private collection. Photo: Charly  Herscovici/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
René Magritte, "Son of Man" (1964), oil on canvas, private collection. Photo: Charly Herscovici/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  

Ask anyone who has ever tried improvisational theatre: a cardinal rule is always to say "yes" to whatever your improv partner has come up with during a scene. Maybe the idea will pay off, maybe it won't. But blocking it, saying "no," will certainly not get you anywhere. "Yes" keeps the ball in play.

So on our "days off" last week, Wednesday & Thursday (we work Friday through Tuesday, don't ask), we tried this approach to repeated requests for our limited time and attention. For two days straight, we said "yes" to every press conference and publicity opportunity that came our way.

On our first morning off, we attended the "René Magritte: The Fifth Season" press preview at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (which Sura Wood reviews in this issue). The paintings of the artist's transformational latter period, 1943-67, invite you in. Is "Son of Man" the most beguiling self-portrait of all time? We placed ourselves into the immersive spaces of "The Dominion of Light" series. This exhibition is beautifully installed.

Then we said "yes" to a dental appointment. Told to, we rinsed and spat.

Then we said "yes" when Pepi proposed we go see director Wes Anderson's new film "Isle of Dogs" at the Shattuck Theater in Berkeley. The beleaguered canines in this stop-motion animation are voiced by actors of the caliber of Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Bryan Cranston. Scarlett Johansson voices show dog Nutmeg. There's even a cameo from Yoko Ono. But even though we enjoyed running with the dogs, Out There is 100x more a cat person.

The next morning we said "yes" to a media breakfast at Illy Caffé in the Financial District. Illy, founded in 1933 in Trieste, Italy, is still family-owned. Our event was an Arabica coffee tasting with professors from the Universita del Caffe. They were eager to share the goods, and show us their new Y5 DRS Iper Espresso machine and capsule system.


Contemporary artist Max Petrone at Salone Milan. Photo: Courtesy Illy Caffe  

Master barista Giorgio Milos led the program. OT is a veteran of many wine tastings, but this was our first coffee tasting. We sampled four Arabicas from different parts of the world. The first, from Brazil, was boldest in taste, with caramel overtones. Brew from the Guatemalan beans hit notes of dark chocolate and honey. Arabica from Colombia had fruity overtones, and the batch from Ethiopia hinted of floral notes like lavender and jasmine. Iffy roasts a premium blend of these four origins, using the top 1% of Arabica beans globally, for a most satisfying cup of Joe.

We also got to see the new Illy Art Collection cups, with graphic illustrations by Italian artist Max Petrone that feature coffee animations with a graffiti touch typical of underground comics. Did you know that coffee is the second-most consumed beverage, after water? Did you know it's the second-most commodity traded, after oil? We did not know that.

Then we said "yes" to a presser at the War Memorial Opera House looking ahead to the San Francisco Opera's "Ring" cycle coming this summer (which Philip Campbell previews in this issue). There's a lot to anticipate in this journey down the Rhine, which General Director Matthew Shilvock called "one of the great feats of humanity." Bass Greer Grimsley, who will portray Wotan, King of the Gods, acknowledged, "It's a singing athletic event - it's all about stamina."

OT also had stamina last week. Yup, that sure was a lot of yesses. But don't worry, OT can't go on being agreeable all the time. In fact, our job requires us to say "no" a good deal. At first that was tough for us to do. But then it got better!


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