August 23, 2016 –
San Antonians turned out in their finest at the Empire Theater for Volume 23 of PechaKucha night. Randy Beamer reprised his usual role as emcee with his characteristic aloof wit, sharing the duty with Elaine Wolff, journalist and former editor of the Current, who took over midway and enlivened the discussions with thoughtful and pointed questioning. Hors d’oeurves provided by The Box and Folc were a welcome sight, who bestowed upon pechakucha-goers ahi tuna and bruléed figs, respectively. Here’s what you may have missed.
First to present was auctioneer Rob Vogt on the subject of his vocation. My wry jest that he should have no problems keeping pace with the pechakucha format was cut short when the first two slides got ahead of him. He recouped admirably. The skill peculiar to his ilk is known as ‘the chant’ in industry jargon, he informed, and serves to instill a sense of urgency in the bidder’s mind. Rob had the crowd practice in a bit of interactive fun, though he inevitably put the room to shame, unleashing a machine-gun barrage of syllables upon us just as we thought we’d getting the hang of it. The trick to the chant, he revealed, is a bit of clever morphological manipulation of the standard verbage – for example, the numbers ‘sixty’ and ‘sixty-five’ are repacked as ‘sih-keh-ty’ and ‘sih-keh-ty-fie.’ One hundred becomes a humorous ‘honey.’ A variety of filler phrases also aid auctioneers in keeping the flow, presumably when they’re chanting so fast the brain falls a step or two behind the mouth.
Barbara Ras, poet and founding director of Trinity University Press, delivered apropos of expectation; that is to say, her 400 seconds were virtually indistinguishable from verse. “To cultivate a spirit of poetry, you have to cultivate a spirit of indolence,” she recited, and upon it gave homily: attentive wandering of the mind can pay off, and a poem may be triggered by the unexpected. I can relate to this creative process – hardly will a poem reveal itself when I’m romping through the woods looking for it. Illustrating this, a whimsical, ostensibly hypothetical poem entitled “Bugs Pray” took us through her inner processes, amongst include Google tangents and impulsive memetic correlations. And, it turns out, “Bugs Pray” did become an actual poem she wrote.
I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Salmon before the presentations when we shared brush with death on the stairs leading down to the bathroom. He is a man of boundless energy, and he has dedicated his life to childbirth education. As a doula and lactation counselor, his approach challenges perceived gender norms, and he supports those challenged by the fuzzy areas of childbirth such as breastfeeding and epidurals. He also added an entry to my lexicon: tokophobia, the dread of childbirth, of which he claims the delineation of a tertiary form. “Mom and dad working as a team – that’s my goal,” Salmon said.
Kristal Cuevas showed a moment of conscientious levity when she introduced her piece on yoga with Instagram hashtags. Deeper was explored in the meat of her subject, the ‘yamas’, or moral tenants, of yoga, of which she purported to list eight, though somewhere along the way I lost track of our place in the enumeration. Among the most memorable, not to mention contemporarily pertinent, was the conservation of personal energy against wasteful distractions. The scope of her material might have been more focused, as the listing of all the yamas left little room for elucidation. Pechakucha is not as easy as it may seem, and covering too much material is the common pitfall; it was mine the once I tried my hand at university. Those twenty seconds go by fast, and mastering clear, concise, and meaningful delivery of information in that time takes careful planning and practice.
After a brief intermission, Lorie Solis came up to the plate, and she certainly has had a lot on hers, from cutting her adventuring teeth living in a Hawaiian tree, to working a Russian shrimping vessel, to owning a solar-installation company. Her newest venture is the Urban Farm Camp and its mission of “taking back food security” and connecting with nature and each other. Focusing heavily on younger campers, the retreat gives parents opportunity to spend time with their kids and kids the opportunity to open their palettes and, more importantly, connect to the land, where “the energy you expel comes right back to you,” as Solis put it. They learn the smell of rain, she continued, and the feel of changing seasons. More poignantly, they are presented the fine line between life and death, gaining respect for the former and reverence for the latter. In a time when most children (and almost as many adults) live disconnected from food before it reaches a plate, the primal candidacy of Lorie’s message rang true.
Elaine Wolff introduced Chef Zach Garza as he took the podium, who didn’t miss an opportunity to tie into Lorie’s momentum. He embarked on an existential tack, presenting an image of our vast galaxy and the idea none of us matter. It was clearly a rhetorical tool, as he recanted to present meaningful existence in the context of “our uniqueness in time and space,” which became the basis for the importance of art and creativity. Food is Zach’s artistic medium and is no different, making the case of its higher importance as a experience in time-space than an experience in tastebuds. “Extending that experience to those around you,” was Garza’s bulwark against the slow creep of nihilism underneath a scene of plenty and fellowship at Hot Wells.
The richest dish, however, came after his twenty slides when Elaine posed a thoughtful question: what are his views on the emerging national vogue of Latin American cuisines? Chef Garza’s reply was equally thoughtful, a subtle call to remember and respect the cultures that birthed them. What was left unsaid, I hope others heard as loud as I.
Local artist Jeremiah Teutsch opened with his childhood memories of living rough with his “polymath mountain-man” father, as he described him, and how that hands-on spirit influenced some of his early work. He moved into differing phases of his artistic expressions. Following colorful photographs of his dabbling in sidewalk art, he spoke of George Levine’s influence his own work with caricatures. He credited his theater sets designs as inspired by David Lynch, going so far as hiding dust-bunnies in the same manner.
Through the march of these myriad mediums, a theme materialized; artistic imitation, rather than a mere device of the novice, can enrich the portfolio and ken of creatives at any level. Curiosity, he showed, is best tested upon the firm shoulders of others, as surely Teutsch now possesses a range of experiences that wouldn’t have been possible if limited to the heights of pulled bootstraps. Of those experiences he shared
The last presenter of the night was Kory Cook, best known for his tenure as KRTU’s chief announcer and his involvement several local acts, including Royal Punisher, We Leave at Midnight, and Dark Planes. Like Jeremiah, he opened by describing himself through his roots, claiming his mother’s music and rural Midwestern childhood as prime influences. For the most part, the majority of his presentation unfolded as a fairly entertaining autobiography that chugged on under the sheer force of his charisma. He cited one of his chief experiences as occurring in New York, where he ran into notable percussionist Leroy Clouden, whose Delphic wisdom convinced Kory to get back to Texas – which, in all honesty, seems like fairly common sense. Texas is heaven, and everyone knows it. So he packed up his drums and left. The rest is history, so it would seem, as his story ended on a cliffhanger.
Elaine pulled a few more nuggets from him at the end, asking where best in town one might learn about jazz. Kory’s responses included the Olmos Bharmacy, the freshly opened Jazz, TX, and Jim Cullum’s legendary The Landing.
On a final note, the importance of PechaKucha night as an institution in San Antonio cannot be stressed enough. The event is more than a platform for the people who presented tonight; it is an equal platform available to everyone in this city, including you. We heartily encourage to sign up. Tell the city something they don’t know. Tell the city about what you love. But remember, those twenty slides go by fast. If you are interested in presenting, contact the PKSA committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.