CVIndependent

Wed09182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Just after 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and started firing at the 320 or so people who were still in the club after the bartenders announced last call. In the three terrible hours that followed, at least 50 people lost their lives.

The country woke up to this horrifying news on Sunday morning, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert quickly assembled a vigil to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs. 

Mike Thompson, the LGBT Center’s chief executive officer, explained how the vigil came together.

“It was really kind of a matter of minutes,” Thompson told the Independent. “A few people already coordinated some activities, so it was immediately getting together with them and organizing the community organizers. It was great to have something to rally around, and the support has been tremendous.”

Thompson said that he had not spoken with anyone at The Center, Orlando’s LGBT community center, but he said he was heartened to see how many similar vigils and events had been scheduled in solidarity with Orlando.

“I’m on a list with a bunch of other community centers, and it’s been phenomenal to see the kind of support that’s being shown. There are 152 events scheduled over the next couple of days in 32 states, including San Juan, Puerto Rico and in Mexico City. In a 12-hour period of time, what’s been able to come together when communities mobilize—it’s pretty fantastic.”

He said it was important for the vigil to be held on Arenas—the epicenter of gay nightlife in the Coachella Valley.

“Because this event in Orlando happened in a gay bar, and we had our own tragedy with George Zander on Arenas back in November, it was important for us as a community to gather on this street and show our solidarity in our community. This is significant on so many levels for this community.”

Richard Noble, who walked across America with the rainbow flag to promote LGBT civil rights, was present holding a sign that said “Enough Gun Violence.”

Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016, Christopher Durbin, said he felt sadness, followed by anger, when he heard about what is now the deadliest mass shooting ever in the United States.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We’ve had many incidents like these of gun violence in the past, and nothing is being done. Maybe with the largest and most severe one in American history, something will be done.”

Durbin said the vigil offered inspiration on what was otherwise a dark day.

“I am so filled with pride and joy right now. This incredible turnout happened in a matter of a few hours,” he said. “It is heartwarming to see, and it is incredible to see what can be done so quickly in our beautiful town of Palm Springs.”

Just before the vigil started, the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus gave a beautiful performance of “God Bless America,” which resulted in some people choking back tears during the moment of silence that Thompson led, shortly before Congressman Raul Ruiz started to speak.

Ruiz spoke at length about the need for better gun-control laws.

“This is a time where we reaffirm our commitment to defeat terrorism around the international community,” Ruiz told the audience to applause.

At that moment, a man screamed, “Raul! What are you going to tell the NRA when you get back to Washington?”

Ruiz’s response: “I’m going to tell them to stop their bullshit!” he said to thunderous applause.

Ruiz ended his speech on a high note.

“I want to say that I stand with you; I mourn with you; and I dream of an equal America that demonstrates its greatness through the equality of its values, and I will always march with you,” Ruiz said.

When Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon spoke, he emphasized that safety was a priority.

“I want to assure you as your mayor that the city of Palm Springs and your Palm Springs City Council recognizes public safety is the No. 1 responsibility of our city and our City Council,” Moon said.

Moon added a call for solidarity.

“We must put a stop to this violence and tragic loss of life,” he said. “We must continue to work together, to support one another, and not give up the fight for equality for every person in the United States—regardless of their gender, their gender identity, their age, their religion or their sexual orientation. Let’s keep fighting until we win this battle.”

The first of three religious leaders to speak was Rabbi David Lazar, of Temple Isaiah.

“Look where you are standing, because you’re standing on holy ground,” Lazar told the crowd. “We are sanctifying this ground, this street, this row of clubs by being here and saying and doing and just being here. We’re sanctifying this ground. A place where other people come to be together to hold hands and celebrate—that place was defiled. While we can’t go to Orlando right now to do what we’re doing, we symbolically do it here.”

Imam Reymundo Nour from the Islamic Society of Palm Springs spoke out in support of the LGBT community.

“The Islamic Society of Palm Springs wants you to know that we stand with other Islamic organizations, civic leaders, human rights organizations, the clergy and the LGBT community,” Nour said. “We stand together in condemning this senseless act of violence.” 

Imam Nour reminded attendees what happened to the Islamic Society of Palm Springs back in December—an attack which made national headlines.

“Recently, in December, our mosque was firebombed by an individual who had similar hate sentiments,” he said. “The LGBT community stood behind us, so we’re here to stand behind you today. We pray for the victims and their loved ones, and we urge the residents of our valley, we urge the citizens of our nation, to stand with them in their time of need as they stood with us in ours and consistently stand with us in our time of need against bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.”

Kevin Johnson, of Bloom in the Desert Ministries, referenced the jigsaw-puzzle pattern on the stole he was wearing.

“It is a time for drawing together, and we are doing that,” he said. “It is also a time when we are called to action. The ordination stole I am wearing right now is rainbow-colored puzzle pieces. I wear it because it represents the intersection of oppressions … in the LGBT community. Let’s eliminate the lines, but until that can happen, but like jigsaw puzzles, our communities are connected to one another, and we can live, support, and work for one another.”

Johnson said it was important to speak out against violence and included the old ACT UP slogan, “Silence = Death.”

“Thoughts and prayers are fine, but they are not enough,” Johnson said. “Ending this madness will take votes, and I encourage everyone of good faith to cast votes to elect leaders and pass laws to bring sensible gun laws into our communities.”

Lisa Middleton, a transgender woman who is a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission and former board member at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, choked up when she first started speaking.

“We remember Harvey Milk; we remember Matthew Shepard; and we remember Brandon Teena,” Middleton said. “We did not need another reminder, but now we have Orlando.

“I have news for the haters: You are going to lose! There are more of us than there are of them. We are stronger than they are; we are better organized; and we have a pulse. It is time that people like Omar Mateen cannot get an AR-15. It is past time for that to happen. We know the club he went to; we know why he went to that club; we know who he targeted; and we know who he was after. He’s not going to win. They have tried to stop us before, put us in jail for who we loved, fired us when we came out, tried to stop us from getting married—and it didn’t work out too well for them. We are stronger; we are together; and this is our town and our country. It is our time! We’re going to stand together. We will stand strong, and ladies and gentlemen, we shall overcome!”

Published in Local Issues

On the bar at Lulu—one of Palm Springs’ biggest and most popular restaurants (and a personal favorite of mine)—is a sign in a silver picture frame.

“We have an excellent selection of non-Russian vodka,” the sign reads, just below an image of a rainbow-colored martini.

Lulu is one of a number of bars and restaurants that are participating in a boycott of Russian vodka that is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

It’s a boycott that is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, it isn’t well-thought-out.

The roots of the boycott lie, in part, in a call by Dan Savage, a pundit, author and sex-advice columnist who is the editorial director of The Stranger, one of the Independent’s alt-media brethren, in Seattle. On Wednesday, Savage wrote a post on The Stranger’s website titled “Why I’m Boycotting Russian Vodka.” In the post, he chronicles increasing government-sanctioned anti-gay movements in Russian, including bans on gay-pride celebrations and violent attacks on LGBT groups and individuals. These horrendous actions have led many to call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which are being held in Sochi, Russia.

Savage points out that many of us can’t really participate right now in an Olympics boycott, since the vast majority of us aren’t planning on traveling to Sochi for the games. However, many of us do drink vodka. And therefore, he argues, we can send a message by forgoing Russian booze.

“If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands … switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery,” Savage writes. “Stoli is the iconic Russian vodka and it's returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.”

There’s no doubt that the well-intentioned boycott is growing. There’s also no doubt that the boycott is gaining attention.

Attention from Stoli, that is: The company is understandably concerned, and has issued a statement to the world condemning Russia's actions and promoting LGBT rights.

Of course, anyone who has attended any large LGBT event in recent years already knows that Stoli is engaged and supportive of the LGBT community. In fact, Stoli actually employs an LGBT brand ambassador, Patrik Gallineaux. (Full disclosure: Patrik is a friend.)

You can speculate that Stoli may cares more about LGBT dollars than LGBT rights. (After all, we gays love our vodka, don’t we?) You can also criticize Stoli for its over-glorification of twinks and single-digit-body-fat-percentage younger men in its LGBT-themed promotions. (But that’s a column for another time.) But you can’t deny that Stoli has done more to engage, support and be visible in the gay community than any other liquor brand, foreign or domestic—and that is a very good thing.

A recent lesson on the consequences of boycotts can be found in the state to our east. After the state of Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer made the anti-immigrant SB 1070 into law in 2010, a group of musicians, led by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, organized the Sound Strike, a movement that discouraged bands from performing in the state of Arizona. In time, an impressive list of musicians ranging from Maroon 5 to Steve Earle to Ozomatli signed on with the Sound Strike.

Sound Strike was undeniably well-intentioned. After all, SB 1070 was a terrible, horrendous law with racist roots.

On one hand, Sound Strike was a success—for a period of time, a number of acts indeed cancelled concerts in Arizona, and/or refused to schedule dates there.

On the other hand, Sound Strike was a failure: The right-wing Republicans in the Arizona Legislature and notorious officials such as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer didn’t care one whit about Sound Strike. They continued to fight on behalf of SB 1070 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected much of the law in 2012.

In other words, while Sound Strike had a profound effect on, say, fans of Ozomatli in Arizona, and well-meaning progressive nonprofits like the Rialto Theatre, it had no effect on the people who were responsible for SB 1070 becoming law.

Sound Strike eventually fizzled out, more or less, but only after harming at lot of people who were—like the Sound Strike organizers—opposed to SB 1070. (The boycott cost the nonprofit Rialto at least six figures.)

I see the same thing happening with this ill-advised Russian-vodka boycott. There's no doubt that this boycott could hurt the most gay-engaged liquor brand in the U.S. I also have no doubt that Vladimir Putin and other anti-gay leaders in Russia will suffer neither harm nor a crisis of conscience over this boycott.

That’s why when I head to downtown Palm Springs tonight for a cocktail, Stoli will be the liquor in my glass.

Published in Editor's Note

PS Underground Offers Surprises, Delights to Adventurous Foodies

So this is how it works: You go to the PS Underground webpage, and you request a reservation for a dinner event being held on a certain date. The event is called, say, “Spectrum: An Evening of Culinary Theater.”

You disclose any dietary restrictions, and say whether any members of your party are nondrinkers. If your reservation is confirmed, you pay, in the case of “Spectrum,” $89, plus tax, per person.

You don’t know the location (other than it is somewhere local) for “Spectrum.” You don’t know what’s being served. And you don’t even know what in the world “Spectrum” means.

Shortly before the event, you’ll get an email revealing the location, time and perhaps a hint about the theme, so you can dress up appropriately.

If such a culinary adventure sounds intriguing, then you should check out PS Underground.

PS Underground is the brainchild of Michael Fietsam and David Horgen. The local foodies, both of whom have backgrounds in the restaurant biz, say PS Underground got its start thanks to the dinner parties the couple would hold at their home. The more parties they had, the more popular they became.

“People (friends of friends) were coming to our house we didn’t even know,” Fietsam says. “We figured out that obviously, something was missing in the desert. There was a niche, and we thought: Why not turn our love and passion (for food) into a business?”

Thus, PS Underground was born. The first event was held last November. “A Taste of Autumn” was held in a 1960s-era artist bungalow, and appetizers were served outside, near a fire pit and sculptures. Dinner was served inside next to … a Jacuzzi?

“It was a blend of elegance and kitsch!” says the PS Underground website.

Four other events have followed, including “Last Dinner on the Titanic,” held in April on the 101st anniversary of the last meal aboard the doomed ship. Fietsam says that he and David try to appeal to all of the senses, and for the “Last Dinner,” not only did they re-create the menu of the Titanic’s final meal; they made the dining room look as much as possible like the room the first-class passengers on the Titanic would have found. They put up pictures from the voyage. They played newsreels about the ship’s maiden voyage. They worked with a local producer on a 15-minute video to play at the dinner. They even researched how the food was served to passengers.

“We wanted our diners transported into that experience,” Fietsam says.

Due to an increase in demand, “Spectrum”—PS Underground’s fifth event—was grown into four nights spread over two weekends. The first two nights happened on July 12 and 13, with the second two occurring on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2 and 3.

Guests at the first two “Spectrum” nights were asked to keep quiet about the details until the second two nights have come and gone. So, I asked Fietsam: Can you offer any hints on what attendees can expect?

“The location we’ve chosen is quite unique. It’s not a place people would expect for a dinner party,” he says. In fact, he says that attendees are on “pins and needles” during the cocktail portion of the evening, wondering how, exactly, the night is going to work out.

If you’re interested in attending “Spectrum,” or any PS Underground event, early reservations are advised, because Michael and David cap the attendance at 30 to keep the dinner-party vibe intact.

To join the club, get information on future events, look at pictures and menus from previous events, or make reservations for one of the final two “Spectrum” nights, visit www.psunderground.com. You can also follow PS Underground on Facebook.

Level 2 Again Goes Gay

For years, it was an LGBT bar known as Sidewinders. Then it became an LGBT bar called Elevation. Then it was turned into Level 2, a … straight bar? (Gay folks were welcome, but the bar’s owners tried to orient the venue toward a more-general crowd. So, we’ll stick with the term “straight bar,” even though it’s kinda stupid and not wholly accurate.)

Well, whatever it was before, make no mistake: Level 2, at 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City, is again a gay bar. (But, of course, straight folks are welcome.)

New owners took control in June, and Level 2 celebrated its grand reopening (not that it ever closed, but still …) the first week of July. You’ll find a comfy atmosphere, a cool balcony (too bad it doesn’t overlook something more appealing than Highway 111 and the parking lot) and drag shows hosted by Marina Mac every Saturday at 9.

Want more info? Call 760-328-6834, or track down the bar on Facebook.

Figue Offers Cooking Classes, Recipes

If you like cooking food, and enjoy learning about food, you’ll want to take the following steps:

1. Point your browser toward eatfigue.com.

2. Click on “blog.”

3. Click on “Italian Cooking Class.”

4. Enjoy the information, history and full freakin’ recipes for watermelon and tomato salad; guazzetto of wild salmon, mussels and shrimp; and pistachio, polenta and olive oil cake.

Yum.

This is what I am hoping is the first in a series of notes and recipes from Figue chef François de Mélogue’s cooking classes to be posted on the website for Figure Mediterranean, 47474 Washington St. in La Quinta. These are from the class in June—and it turns out that TOMORROW, at noon, Saturday, July 20, Mélogue will be offering a French cooking class. The cost is $75, and the 2 1/2-hour event includes a three-course lunch.

“Like” Figue on Facebook for more information on future classes and other special events. And watch that Figue blog for more yummy recipes and information … we hope! Call 760-698-9040 for more info.

In Brief

Brushfire Grille and 911 Saloon, which was located at 1260 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, has closed. … Welcome to the dark days for Coachella Valley foodies: Summer closures at many beloved eateries are in full force. Be sure to call ahead or sniff around on Facebook before heading to your favorite restaurant.

Published in Restaurant & Food News