By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
September in Miami, the hot bottom of the earth, and life is like an interminable Port St. Lucie dinner-theater production of No Exit, leavened somewhat by bright moments here and there. "Kaboom" at Warsaw. Club Anarchy in the Grove and Falcon's Lair on South Beach opening with all due fanfare. Publicists Charlie Cinnamon and Terry Zarikian hosting a diverting 28th birthday party for Richard Perez-Feria and his twin brother, William, at Big City Fish in CocoWalk, attended by all the usual suspects.
All in all, a nice enough evening, but still, an overwhelming desire to beam in somewhere, anywhere, different. An itch perfectly satiated by an all-too-brief respite in California's wine country, a humanistically nourishing, touchy-feely paradise. A land eternally stuck in 1968, one big time capsule of long, unruly hair and dirty bare feet, Day-Glo psychedelic Volkswagon vans, tie-dyed shirts, Birkenstock alert attire for the women. Forever young and, mostly, forever ugly. The New Age everywhere: former merry prankster Wavy Gravy at the Sebastapol Book Store; a Free Daist Communion presentation of "An evening with Da Avabhasa, the divine true heart-master"; endless self-actualization workshops, from "A Course in Miracles Retreat: You are invited to discover your life's purpose" to "How to make love while making a life and a living." Everyone -- even at discount drugstores -- as eerily pleasant as the weather, despite having a Miami Beach vulgarian in their midst, brain dead, politically and spiritually null and void, fueled by flash, and constitutionally incapable of not lobbing the adjective "fabulous" all over the place.
Guided by patient-to-the-point-of-saintliness hosts and discovering a world of polite, mostly daytime pleasures. Nature walks, redwood groves, and cool foggy beaches with sunning sea lions, deer grazing on the cliffs. Country streets empty at 9:00, our valve system painfully adjusting to waking up at an hour customarily reserved for one last nightcap. Arcane California cuisine, crab cakes with salsa cruda and the like, strolling out afterward in the gentle sun and feeling disembodied amid all the rigorous niceness. The obligatory winery tours at places like the Russian River Vineyards during the "crush," when the grapes are squeezed in huge presses, wine bores wandering in and out, talking about pH balance and the lack of stomach troubles among Italians. Taking an enzyme/rice bran/Hidoki cedar fiber treatment at the spa Osmosis Enzyme Bath, laying in a bed of steaming wood shavings, looking out over a Japanese garden as the poisons of the night shift ooze out of the carcass. A string of cordial receptions leading up to the big weekend, the Russian River Jazz Festival in Guerneville, the heart of the Redwood Empire. Thousands of party-hearty types gathering on Johnson's Beach for Spyro Gyra, Joe Williams, and Tower of Power. A little touch of home in the form of the salsa group, the Pete Escovedo Orchestra. Escovedo, the father of Sheila E., one great musician, the crowd dancing along in a terminally white way.
Guerneville, as it happens, a faded West Coast division of Provincetown, this particular weekend full of the frenzy that is Leatherfest '92. The slave/master/redneck homo set striking poses of toughness around the town's four gay bars, all situated next to relentlessly heterosexual establishments, full of Patsy Cline hair and nasty-looking cowboys. The main club, Ziggaraut, a sort of scaled-down Paragon with an Aztec/Art Deco theme, drawing an incredibly mixed crowd with a line-up of Monday Night Football parties, retro groups like Spirit, and campy James Bond movies. Clean and inoffensive, and this being California, an actual no-smoking section. In a club. The only game in town, though, and closing time -- 2:00 a.m. -- coming much too soon. The bars empty out, and it's dark side/underbelly of Pleasant Valley time. Two lesbians, straight out of Dorothea Lange's depression-era photos and not quite in tune with the self-realization program, have a juicy beer bottle fight. The streets full of nasty ribaldry: "My friend didn't mean to call you a nigger, faggot." Sonoma and adjacent Napa county are roughly 85 percent white; a black-owned rib restaurant in the very chic Napa Valley actually had to shut down after repeated Klan-style acts of terrorism.
All sweetness and light, however, at a Planned Parenthood benefit on the grounds of the circa-1885 Victorian gingerbread home of director Francis Ford Coppola, built by Inglenook winery founder Gustave Niebaum. Tout Monde Napa and San Francisco society -- Bill Jaeger of Rutherford Hill vineyards, Bill Harlan of Maryville wines, state senator Tom Campbell, people with names like Paris von Pohl -- trolling through a landscape of the exquisite. A pond with two huge swans, myrtle trees with pink blossoms, an outdoor oven for making pizzas, an adjacent winery churning out Coppola's own Rubicon wine. Tributes to Margaret Sanger, candlelit outhouses, and a selection of unbelievable dishes from area restaurants -- Chateau Souverain's tea-smoked quail a particularly delicious offering. Coppola himself arriving late in the afternoon, casual and rumpled, the top button of his pants undone. The look of a man who's seen it all -- triumphs, disasters, bankruptcies, whatever, pushing on anyway with the luck of the rich: "Wind's going great; it's opening this weekend. Some good reviews are coming in and I just hope it does good business."