Food

Some corner of a foreign field…

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 | Art, Food, Friends, Stavros, Travel | 1 Comment

I spent the last few weeks in Greece, traveling around with Stavros and his new squeeze. Big Chrissy joined us for the first week, passing a few days in Athens, visiting the Archaeological Museum, Acropolis and Acropolis Museum–musts for new visitors, and for me so nice to revisit Papposilenus, Poseidon, Hadrian and all my other guys.

We attended a staging of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD on the southern slope of the Acropolis. It was a joint production of the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia and the National Theatre of Greece, directed by Rimas Tuminas. Greek actors performed the ancient Chorus in Greek, and Russian actors the lead parts in Russian. At the center of the stage was a single rusted steel tube, a little over a person’s height in diameter, that characters hopped onto and off of, rolling upstage and back as Oedipus hollers at Tiresias and Creon and slowly figures out that he can’t escape his fate. Jocasta was played by an actress who almost comically looked like Oedipus’ grandmother, slowly hobbling across the stage in a dynamite performance.

We visited the Panathenaic stadium, built around 330 BC for the Panathenaic games. It was rebuilt entirely of marble by Herodes Atticus in 144 AD, and much later, and after a complete restoration, in 1896 hosted the first modern international Olympics games. At one end of the field are two delightful herms, one of which is double-sided and double-genitaled, representing Apollo and Hermes. Herms were made to ward off bad energy, as markers, for good luck, etc… but I find their stripped down quality, just head and penis, incredibly entertaining–really, just forget about the rest of this guy.

We saw a really great show of sculpture by Ai WeiWei at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Installed in the neoclassical wing of the museum were meticulously hand-crafted pieces that conceptually addressed the current refugee crisis in Greece, various humanitarian crises in China, and a clever statue made in the style of an early cycladic figure dropping a vase, referring to Ai’s destruction of neolithic pottery in his earlier work. Interspersed throughout the rest of the museum were sculptures that visually blended in with the museum’s collection, handmade shards of pottery, ground neolithic pots, etc, made to look old but referencing contemporary concerns.

From Athens we drove through the Peloponnesos to Neapolis and hopped on the ferry for Kythira. Kythira is where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born. There are several versions of her origins, but my favorite has her emerging from the sea foam after Cronus chopped off his dad Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the sea. The first thing you see on approaching the island is a shipwreck. Driving out of the port and across the barren island, it quickly becomes apparent why Aphrodite was only born here, not much to inspire procreative activity, at least on this part of Kythira. Indeed, the island’s population has dwindled from 14,500 in 1864 to about 4,000 today. In the 16th century the pirate Barbarossa invaded the island, leveled the capital, and sold the survivors into slavery. Stavros complained the whole way, “This is terrible, this tastes horrible, that’s fake.”

The scenic village of Mylopotomos once had 22 mills operating along a small stream with a charming waterfall. We hiked through the ruins of the mills, most almost completely consumed by the surrounding forest, to the seasonally dried-up waterfall and pesto pond below. We had lunch in the main square, under huge old sycamores, and then made our way to the ruins of a Venetian castle on the edge of town, and the cave of Agia Sofia with its 13th century byzantine frescoes. The current capital was founded by the Venetians in the 13th century and is crowned with a picturesque castle.

We had a fabulous dinner at Taverna Filio in Kalamos, the last customers on their last open night of the season. We ordered stuffed fried zucchini flowers, fava (puréed split peas), horta (stewed greens), lamb and potatoes, and baked eggplant, each dish so flavorful. We also had tiganopsomo, a deep fried flat bread served almost like a pizza, with toppings of cheese and tomatoes. They grow and grind their own wheat for their breads, which are proudly brought to the table fresh from the oven. The house wines are crisp and refreshing. The service is friendly and enthusiastic. All dishes are made with locally grown and sourced produce and meats.

The next day we hopped on the ferry back to Neapolis and drove to Monemvasia, a perfectly preserved byzantine gem of a city built into the side of a solid sheer rock of an island. This was my third time to visit, and my first time to stay within the castle walls. Our hotel was an outrageously fabulous restored centuries-old house, with a terrace overlooking the sea and rooftops and domes of the town. No cars are allowed within the castle walls, so you hear only the occasional donkey clomp-clomping by. It really feels like stepping back in time.

After dropping Chrissy off at the airport, Stavros and I headed to Evia, about an hour and a half drive northeast of Athens, a large island that hugs about half of the mainland’s east coast, separated from it by a narrow channel. Our first stop was Halkida (Chalcis), for a quick walk along the channel waterfront. Because of the length of the island, its proximity to the mainland, and the different flows coming into the channel from north and south, an effect called “crazy water” can be observed. Every six hours strong tidal currents reverse direction, creating strong flows of water in opposite directions. Aristotle spent his last year in Halkida and was among the first to speculate correctly about the cause of the tidal shift.

After a really nice lunch on the waterfront near Kymi, we hopped onto the ferry for Skyros island. Skyros is another of those islands not on the map for a lot of foreign travelers. Stavros and I reserved a house through AirBnB, in the village of Molos, in the shadow of the main town and close to the beach. Our hostess was the most knowledgable Skyrophile who has ever lived, having written books on the cuisine, ceramics and history of the island, the books casually scattered among our room’s furnishings. On Sunday morning, driving into town with Stavros, hours after she and her husband had taken off for church in town, we saw her sauntering back to the house, in her tight dress and high heels and perfect conch of a hairdo. To get to where she was from town, she had to have walked down through the winding streets of town–essentially down a mountain–and then several miles to where we saw her. In high heels. Not a hair out of place. I was in awe. She’s like someone Melina Mercouri would have portrayed.

The main town is perched on the slopes of a steep mountain overlooking the sea. Near the charming folk art museum, there’s a nude statue dedicated to eternal poetry and Rupert Brooke, the english poet known for his beauty and romantic war poems, serenely perched on a theatrical stage set of sea and sky. Rupert was connected to Skyros only through his death. While in the British Royal Navy, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island. He was buried in an olive grove in the otherwise rocky and barren southern part of the island.

Hiking up through town to the castle we were accosted by several sweet middle-aged women, Athenians closing up their houses for the season, one of whom invited us into her home. Eager to show us a traditional Skyrian home, she proudly pointed out her many ceramics and freshly polished copper wares, and served us mastiha, a liqueur flavored with resin of the mastic tree.

The island is shaped like a figure 8, with the northern part densely green and lush. There’s a neolithic settlement on the northern tip and several other ruins scattered here and there along the drive, reflecting the various architectural styles of Roman, Venetian, Macedonian and Byzantine civilizations.

The southern part of the island is very rocky and bare. Near the most southern point, along the main road, are rock formations–either naturally occurring or by human hand, not sure, but they’re very striking in the landscape–forming a (seemingly) natural abstract sculpture garden, with the occasional passing goat or wild pony.

There’s a pony that’s native to Skyros, brought to the island by Athenian settlers sometime between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, one of the rarest horse breeds in the world. The ponies may have been used by Alexander in his conquests, and might be the horses depicted on the Parthenon frieze. The ponies are semi-wild in the southern part of the island, but many have been caught and tamed for use by farmers, ranging across the island until they are needed for the grain harvest.

Driving back to Athens, we took the longer mountainous route through the heart of Evia, a beautifully scenic drive twisting through dense forests, steep gorges, and sweet little hilltop villages. I’m back in San Francisco now, where Autumn is in full swing, a little discombobulated by how swiftly my time in Greece passed, missing those placid Greek waters, souvlaki pitas, and my dear friends…

Deep in July it’s Nice to Remember the Fire of May that Made us Mellow

Saturday, July 11th, 2015 | Food, Stavros, Travel | 1 Comment

It’s July in San Francisco. Cold, foggy, drizzly. Now that my show is up and the dogs are sleeping, I’ll attempt to fill you in on some of my adventures of the past few months.

In May I spent a few weeks in Greece, exploring the northwest mainland and Corfu with little Stavros.

We visited Nikopolis, which Octavian founded following his defeat of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. Napoleon’s troops plundered and looted the site in 1789, the treasures eventually ending up with the Ali Pasha when he defeated them. So as with most of these ancient sites, there’s not much left, save for some interesting floor mosaics, two theaters, a quaint little museum with the plunderers’ rejects, crumbling ruins and an aqueduct, all beautifully set in gently rolling hills. The stadium, buried under weeds and bright green grass, nibbled on by sheep, must have inspired several Romantic odes. A shepherd told us with a snicker that his sheep were part of the stadium restoration.

We spent the night in Parga, a hilly resort town on the Ionic. Standing up after resting on a bench by the sea, I felt my camera slip from my lap. It seemed like forever after my eyes locked with my neighbor’s that the “plunk!” that we both anticipated finally came. There was quite a scene as a local fisherman and his kid tried to get it out of the water for me. A large crowd gathered and cheered after they finally fished it out. People around town were pointing at me all night. I was able to save the images in the camera, but since the camera was on when it fell into the water, the electronics shorted out. I used my iPhone for the remainder of the trip, and realized how dependent I’d become on my camera to document and record my experience. When I first traveled to Europe in the mid 80’s I refused to take pictures. This is when I was studying photography at the Art Institute but considered myself a conceptual artist. Ideas and experience were paramount, the object inconsequential. I didn’t want anything mitigating my first Grand Tour. I wanted to experience the real things that I had read about and studied in art school, with my own eyes, that I’d seen in textbooks and in movies… I didn’t want my memories contained within photographs, they’d always be alive in my head. And of course now I don’t remember anything. Thus I’ve become one of those obnoxious tourists who takes pictures of every pre-historic thimble and my memories are fairly restricted to what has been photographed.

From Parga we traveled to Mesopotamos and visited the Nekromanteion, site of the ancient oracle of death and the door to Hades, where people came to connect with their dead ancestors. Three rivers join nearby and flow to the underworld. This is where Odysseus made his trip down under. On entering the temple grounds, visitors participated in an elaborate ceremony and were fed snacks laced with narcotics. After passing through a series of underground passageways, they’d pose their questions to the oracle, and the priest appeared to rise from the ground and fly around, the awed but quite stoned pilgrims unaware of the cranes and ropes hoisting them aloft. A busload of German women appeared at one point and pushed past me and Stavros in the underground chamber and held their hands solemnly to a crack in the wall, presumably seeking communion with lost loved ones. Then they hustled up the stairs and back on the bus.

On the way to Corfu, I read Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, written before WWII. Not much has changed, it’s still all “Venetian blue and gold—and utterly spoilt by the sun.” Durrell says that while other countries offer discoveries in “manners or lore or landscape,” Greece offers something harder—”the discovery of oneself.” I don’t know that I discovered any new me, but I did enjoy the manners, lore and landscape.

We stayed on the west coast, in the Lido Sofia apartments, perched on the cliffs overlooking Agio Ghordios and the sea. Our hostess Sofia was charming and hospitable, and made us feel like we were old buddies staying in her home. A panoramic view of the sea, a beautiful pool, free wifi, lovely rooms and home-cooking… all for €25/night. A week in Greece is cheaper than a weeknight dinner in San Francisco.

Seriously, every other guy in Corfu is named Spiros, after the island’s patron saint.

One night, in the beautiful little mountain village of Kastellanoi, we listened to a soulful singer play guitar and croon about love, on the main square with just a few other locals, drinking homemade wine, watching our souvla sizzle away on the grill across the street.

Old town Corfu is surrounded by three imposing fortifications, dating from the period of Venetian rule. The architecture of the old town also dates to the Venetian period. Passed down to successive French, British, and eventual Greek governments, the predominately Venetian buildings of the old town incorporate elements from each of the town’s occupiers.

The Spianada, or esplanade, in old Corfu town is a large verdant park running between the town and the old fortress, with a bandstand, fountains, statues and a cricket field. At one end of the Spianada is the Royal Palace of Corfu, now the Museum of Asian Art, a grand neoclassical building with a beautiful pockmarked Doric colonnade. Running alongside the Spianada is the Liston, a long building with gracefully vaulted galleries, archways and hanging lanterns. The Liston was constructed during French rule, designed by a French Engineer as a mini Rue de Rivoli, now lined with elegant cafes and restaurants. When first constructed only noblemen were allowed to enter and walk along the street and under the arches. A special list ensured the area was kept elite. The name “Liston” is believed to be derived from a Venetian word that referred to both this list and a wide and straight road.

La Grotta Beach Bar in Palaiokastritsa is the world’s most picturesque swimming hole. One descends a steep stairway to a terraced cafe carved out of the steep cliffs surrounding a cove of icy blue water. A sole honeymooning couple alternately dipped into the water and embraced on the rocks, making out as the water crashed around them, upright versions of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, the rest of us their captive audience, sipping our freddo cappucinos to the thumping chill-out lounge music.

On the slopes of Mount Pantokrator we visited the abandoned village of Old Perithia, first established in the 14th century as Byzantines moved inland to hide from pirate and mosquito attacks. As pirates and mosquitos became less of a problem, people slowly trickled back to the coastal towns, and now only about five people live there. The per capita taverna ratio is 1:1, with five tavernas operating amidst the crumbling, Venetian-style houses. The per capita ratio of churches is even higher, with 1.6 churches for every resident.

We popped in for a visit to Empress Sisi’s little retreat in Corfu, the Achilleion. Elisabeth was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Empress of Austria, as well as Queen of Hungary and Queen consort of Croatia and Bohemia. She built the retreat in Corfu to honor Achilles and her love of Greek culture, a monument to platonic romanticism, aestheticism, and escapism. It was constructed in sadness, built after her son Rudolf’s murder/suicide, which set into motion events leading to WWI.

Of the many memorable meals on Corfu, one of the most memorable was at Archontariki, in Sinarades. Angelos, the owner, sat outside smoking and chatting to everybody who passed by, and invited us in. After ordering, and as Angelos and his son Vagellis chatted with us, we saw Spiridoula, the mom and cook, run down the street to buy items for our meal. The food at this family run restaurant gem was packed with flavor and sensation. The menu contained many of the same local specialties as in other restaurants in Corfu, but Spiridoula’s food was different: much more flavor, expertise, most ingredients grown by her and her family. Her “Grandma’s Meatballs” were exactly what I imagined my grandma’s meatballs would have tasted like, if I had had a Greek grandmother.

After throughly exploring the beaches, towns, castles, sites, sounds, and tastes of Corfu, we boarded the ferry for Igoumenitsa and drove inland on the road that connects the west coast of mainland Greece to Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is only 160 miles away, but it takes about 5 hours for a regular person to drive there. (A Greek, 2.) The new road is a public works masterpiece, snaking through and around the breathtaking Pindos mountains and a bazillion tunnels.

And what a beautiful place to have the car break down. We stalled in a tunnel, and as soon as we pulled over a phone rang. The person on the other end asked if we needed assistance. How’s that for efficiency? We got off the main road so we could drive slower and stopped off in Dodoni. Dodoni was the site of an ancient oracle devoted to Dione, Aphrodite’s mom. Priests and priestesses interpreted the sounds of the rustling leaves prior to dispensing their oracular guidance. The theater dates to about 300 BC, but was destroyed by Aetolians, rebuilt by Philip of Macedon, destroyed again by the Romans and then rebuilt by Augustus. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts going back to Mycenaean times (1600-1100 BC). The theater is surrounded by mountains, fields and trees, just preposterously scenic. The site was undergoing another restoration, so I couldn’t climb to the top, but above is a panoramic photo by Onno Zweers, from the Wikipedia entry about Dodona.

We stopped for the night in a little alpine village in the Pindos mountains, Metsovo. In Ottoman times, the residents were granted special tax privileges in exchange for guarding the mountain passages and servicing passengers. Indeed there were three mechanics in this quaint little town and about a million places to stay for under €40/night. Stone and wood houses are tucked into the hillside, arranged like eagles’ nests rising upwards in a natural amphitheater from the central square. The village is the center of the Greek Vlach community. The Vlachs were originally nomadic shepherds, who claim descent from Latin-speaking Wallachians of what is now Romania. At the time of our arrival kids were running up and down the stairs of the bell tower in the central square, ringing the tower bells 400 times–representing the 400 years under “slavery,” a local priest dramatically told us, or the years under Ottoman rule. Georgios Averoff was born here, considered one of the great benefactors of modern Greece, who contributed to many social, educational and infrastructure projects, including the stadium of the first modern Olympics, and a museum and school of cheesemaking in Metsovo! The butter served at breakfast was truly the most amazing dairy product I’ve ever experienced. Sweet, complex, aromas of grass and herbs… I felt briefly in communion with the cow’s olfactory and taste sensations, imagining myself chewing the cud with the other girls on those bucolic hills. We missed seeing the 14th century monastery there, but we ate a lot of butter.

Back in Athens I had only a few days to visit with my buddies: G, who works high in the Greek government and has read more english literature than anyone I know and pens highly literate pornographic tales on the side; M, a gentle half Greek/half Brit giant in search of a meaningful relationship with an ever-elusive succession of increasingly distant and increasingly older daddy bears; T, engaged with intellectual life and microbiology; and P, my froggy nurse buddy and student of English desperately seeking his Prince Charming. I didn’t get to see T, but I had a salad of baby valerian greens one night. They call it valerian, but I later discovered that it’s what we call mâche. A different species of valerian grows out of cracks in the sidewalks in San Francisco, so ubiquitous that it’s not even noticed, a tough drought-tolerant summer blooming perennial with heads of pink flowers that attracts both rats and cats and smells like cat pee. And there it was on the menu! Or so I thought, this common weed that is thought of as food by only certain moth and butterfly larvae. Remember when arugula was an exotic green? I daydreamed briefly of the valerian revolution I would ignite upon my return to drought-stricken northern California… Ah, but only mâche, already available at Trader Joe’s, and not the stuff growing out of the cracks in front of my house… G took us to Piggy-popoulo in Pagrati for souvlaki. Pagrati is a little off the beaten tourist track, with many restaurants catering to locals. In Metaxourgio, I went to a kalamaki place called Elvis, “Sweet Home Alabama” blasting in the background, and later that night met up with P for drinks at one of my favorite spots, the Dyari Cafe. The host is always charming and welcoming. This time he treated us to a liqueur that he made from the insides of the apricot pit. “Pit” is “kookoutsi!” in Greek. I love that word, and what a kooky idea for a drink! We ended up in Kerameio, a bar in a former pottery workshop in Keramikos. The bar was packed with noisy hipsters, but P and I sat alone in the central courtyard, sipping raki and talking deep into the night. The courtyard was open to the sky, a single tree sharing the sky above us with the moon, the crowded hipsters pressed against the glass walls framing the courtyard, music blaring on their side of the glass; on ours only the sound of rustling leaves, the sweet smell of jasmine, and the intimate banter of dear friends.

Breezing into the Windy City

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Art, Food, Travel | No Comments

I love going to Chicago. It’s like “the big city” in a way that New York and LA–and certainly little San Francisco–somehow aren’t. Maybe it’s the grandeur of the architecture, or just that everything seems so… what? Big? Even small plates at restaurants seem huge. I was there recently, and even I came home bigger, after stuffed pizza, fat steaks, half pound burgers and Whitey’s chocolate malts. Whitey’s is in Moline, on the Iowa border, where Big Chris’ family lives. We stopped in Moline for a few days to visit with them and see the “Self-Taught Genius” show at the Figge in Davenport, across the Mississippi. And Whitey’s malts every night. And there are all these fantastic slow-foody restaurants, with local products, vertically constructed architectural dishes, craft brews and spirits. I remember going to Italy in 1993 with Bob and discovering field greens, which seemed so exotic at the time, and then coming home trying to find things like arugula and frisée, which at the time weren’t yet widely available. I’m so happy that people are rediscovering their local farmers and producers. It makes visiting those places more special, when something uniquely of the place can be experienced.

At the Art Institute of Chicago we saw a show of James Ensor’s work, centered around the restoration of his Temptation of Saint Anthony. What a wonderfully tortured artist. Having never successfully resisted greed or lust myself, I found his anguish at the brutality of modern life quite intense, and so lushly theatrical.

There was also on view a more recent body of work examining the drama of modern misery, from 1980, Sarah Charlesworth’s Stills. Each of the 14 photographs is 78 inches tall, and features a blown up reproduction of an image from a newspaper of a person falling from a tall building. They’re beautifully unsettling, shocking documents that reduce existence to the split second before it’s all over.

Of the many wonderful dining experiences this time around, my favorite was a seemingly dumpy Polish place on West Division, called Podhalanka. We were given a menu, but quickly discouraged from making any decisions and simply asked how hungry we were. “Average hungry” for the two of us resulted in white borscht with sausage soup, cabbage soup, grilled sausages, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, pierogi and Cherry juice. One of the most memorable, satisfying and authentic Polish meals I’ve had in Chicago. The staff quite clearly hoped to give us an experience of Polish cuisine, and share their lovingly made traditional creations, rather than just feed us. I felt like my aunt Agnieszka was cooking–just for us!

My cousins took us out to a pubby restaurant called Publican that describes its food as an homage to bear, pork and oysters–a rowdy place, well-suited to my fun-loving cousins. It’s the kind of place where you could jump on the tables and sing the Whiffenpoof Song. My cousins, who are around my age, have a knack for finding mates who look exactly like what my husband should look like. When the time comes, I’m putting those girls to work on finding the next one for me.

What I Did This Summer by SanFranChrisKo

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Art, Film, Food, Friends, Travel | 1 Comment

I’m up at my buddy David’s, enjoying a quiet weekend at his place in Point Reyes, overlooking the placid Tomales Bay, like sitting in a Monet painting, finally able to do some catching up.

For the past few months I’ve been preparing a show of my work, my first solo exhibition in 7 years. I’m showing now with an artists collective in Oakland, the Mercury Twenty Gallery. The thought of being with another commercial gallery—well, actually their collective sort of decision to not work with me, lol—pushed me into seeking an alternative venue to show my work in, one not constrained by profit or homogeneity, but defined by community and the support of ideas and creativity. The members of the collective are responsible for all aspects of running the gallery and presenting exhibitions. I have a backlog of projects, rejected over the past few years by the likes of Mark, Pat, Paule, Brian, and Bernie, that I’ll now have the opportunity of moving from my basement into the light of the white cube, that you all can finally see!, beginning with my recent projects Bouquet and A Dozen Little Roses that opens this Thursday.

So David. He and I dated briefly 20 or so years ago. He’s kind of exactly the guy that I should have settled down with, but I was distracted by the chubby men. Years go by without seeing each other, but whatever attracted us to each other in the first place keeps bringing us back together. He’s working on his memoirs in the garden, while I wait for the blur of my summer activities to coalesce into some internet appropriate narrative.

Big Chris’ big family visited. We took them to see the sea lions at Pier 39, via the touristy Hyde Street Pier and Pier 39, but they were all off mating somewhere. San Franciscans never visit this part of the city. And really, they shouldn’t. Seeing the remains of what was once a working port was sort of thrilling but also instilled a sad sense of loss in my otherwise chirpy proto-tourist demeanor. I love the crazy gospel people, though, the ones with the “He died for you” signs and portable amplification systems, next to the break dancers and old Chinese erhu players. Their sincerity and intensity and vaudevillian showmanship make for great family entertainment, like the 8-year old reverend Jimmy Joe Jeeter on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. And I love hearing those Bible words, like “smite” and “asunder.”

My mom flew to Chicago to spend some time with her sister, so I flew to Birmingham to dadsit. The downtown is really hopping, with a new arts district and lots of really great restaurants. Rather than replacing southern cuisine with healthy west coast or skimpy nouvelle stuff, they’re integrating other styles and flavors while emphasizing local ingredients and updating classic southern dishes. And you always get a square meal.

Same thing is happening in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Chrissy and I flew out for Labor Day weekend to pick up d’Auggie’s little brother, Zoobie, the latest addition to our ever expanding alternative family. Zoobie is great, the brother of the Best Dog Ever, soon to be the Other Best Dog Ever. He’s soft and cuddly and does all the same bad things that his brother did when he was a small puppy, down to chewing on the same plant in my garden and peeing on the same spot in my kitchen. So Sioux Falls has this little foodie renaissance happening downtown. We ate at Parker’s Bistro. My favorite dish was a soup, a warm silky sweet potato soup with a puree of chilly avocado and cream swirled into it, stimulating the taste buds with contrasting flavor and temperature sensations. We had an amazing meal, at about 1/4 the price we would have paid in San Francisco. And a parking place right out in front! I’m thinking of becoming a part-time mid-westerner.

Chrissy and I flew to New York for a few days. Just to remind people: we are not boyfriends. Despite his looking like the kind of guy that I would marry, despite having dated him on and off for the past 15 years, and despite us doing everything together, we are not boyfriends. My boyfriend lives in Greece and is named Stavros and you can read about him in my past entries, and when he arrives next month for his periodic conjugal visit. So anyway, New York. The occasion of our visit was to see Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in Genet’s The Maids, two of our greatest actresses in a deliriously demented play. And Jeff Koons’ show was great! Shut up! People who don’t like his work probably don’t like puppies either.

What else did I do this summer? I sadly missed all chances to have anything other than my extremities exposed to the sun, and thus developed a pronounced farmer tan. High school buddies Jason and Weestro came to visit, and Archie and Vicki, and Lilly from New York. Lilly was being celebrated for her films at the Jewish something or other Center in Berkeley, and I went one night to see her amazing film about good-intentioned heroic Palestinian and Israeli women peacemakers who end up at each others’ throats by the end of the film. I introduced my buddy to her afterwards and he said something along the lines of “Well, I can’t imagine giving Manhattan back to the indians” which amazingly and almost surreally missed the entire point of not only Lilly’s film but the entire Palestinian peoples’ ongoing struggle to free their land from its occupiers. Lilly’s talk after the film was interesting more for the sparring that took place in the audience. This was a mostly over-70 crowd, mind you, and most seemed well acquainted with each other and with each other’s long developed and unchanging perspectives, and ready to pounce. When one calm and articulate rival of hers seemed to be getting too much positive attention, Lilly leaned into her mike and chastised her with “Hey, this evening is about ME, not about you.” I started a new photo project with spider webs, Bob’s and my book project got shelved by our publisher, Aimée made raspberry-topped chocolate cupcakes for Luna’s birthday that were the best treats of summer—actually the best sweet treats, the best savory were the forbidden victuals at Traif in Brooklyn. I saw hardly any art. I’m like a lapsed Catholic kind of artist. Well, actually, I should say that I saw hardly any art that I can remember. Except for Christopher Williams’ The Production Line of Happiness at MoMA, which so completely and with energetic theoretical rigor encompassed the entire art making visual technical consumerist experience. I saw a million movies, but really liked Blue Ruin, The Test, Pietà, Night Moves, Martin Gable’s only (directed) film The Lost Moment, Stranger by the Lake, 7 Boxes, Enemy, Romance and Cigarettes and Under the Skin.

Okay, back to the city…

Dinner and a Movie. And a Show.

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Family, Film, Food, Friends | No Comments

Bob had me over to watch Babette’s Feast. He made beer bread soup, taking inspiration from a culinary corner of the film that isn’t the one that usually inspires such activity. He took some liberties with the recipe in the film (beer, water and bread), including the addition of pureed fresh peas, which provided some much needed vegetable matter as well as a not entirely pleasant green tint that brought to mind scenes from The Exorcist more so than Babette’s Feast. I brought over some plundered Pliny the Elder beer from a visit last week to the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. The beers there are lip-smackingly delicious, covering the entire breadth of tastebud sensation, from sweet caramel to sour cherry. After dinner and the movie, we went to Oddball Cinema on Capp to check out the evening’s show of vintage erotic films. One film from 1970 was a filmic equivalent of the sexual experience—lots of blurry red body parts, hair, and panting—and came the closest to creating a sensual and erotic atmosphere. But generally, the films were the stuff of stag parties in the 1950s and 60s, mostly titillation, except for a disturbing screwball comedy porn flick from the silent era starring a trio of scantily clad beach beauties, a horny little dude, and a goat. Another prescient silent film depicted the developing medium of television as a potential means of bringing topless women into the homes of frustrated adolescents.

David and I went to see Morgan James at the Venetian Room. She’s a young singer with a powerful voice who idolizes Nina Simone, one of the great song-stylists of the 20th Century, and while singing her tunes, channels instead that high-pitched Broadway belting style that is about as far as one can get from Nina Simone. She did deliver a few amazingly forceful interpretations of jazz standards that went slightly beyond her Jazzy Little Mermaid voice into the realm of soulful interpretation. I really should have taken notes, because I can’t for the life of me recall the particular songs, but if you like that kind of powerful high decibel singing free of burdensome emotional content, she’s the singer for you!

Broadway, Burglary, and Sergeants Bert & Ernie

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 | Art, Film, Food, Friends, Travel | No Comments

Big Chrissy and I took a trip to New York City for Christmas.  We had our luggage stolen from our hotel room, but we saw some great shows, were photographed by Bill Cunningham buying bananas in Brooklyn, and got to ride in a cop car!

The night our luggage was stolen, we made our way to the local precinct to report the burglary.  It was just like in Barney Miller, a shabby interior filled with wise-cracking, heavily-New-York-accented helpful cops.  They drove us back to our hotel in a real NYPD cruiser, but somehow the back seat was pushed forward taking up all the legroom, so Chrissy sat side-saddle and I in a lotus position.  Looking through the rain-smeared windows at the blinking lights outside I thought of Taxi Driver and Bernard Hermann’s haunting score.  “This is totally worth being burgled,” I told the cops.

We spent several hours with them at the hotel, as we waited for the fingerprint guy.  I told them that we had already fouled the crime scene and that fingerprints weren’t necessary and that in San Francisco the police would have never taken the theft of our underwear and socks so seriously.  “Aren’t there other crimes in the neighborhood that you guys should be looking into?  Rapes?  Murders?”  Sergeants Bert & Ernie looked at us gravely, “We take every crime seriously.”  Chrissy and I just melted.  New York cops are indeed the finest.

We saw Isaac Julien’s ridiculous but sumptuous installation at MoMA, supposedly about some tragic drowning, but really about Maggie Cheung flying over gorgeous Chinese scenery, the subject matter seemingly of no real interest to the artist or anybody there.  The Margritte show was just a delight, completely amazing the dazzlingly mature and inventive body of work that he produced from the ages of 28-30.  Walking through Mike Kelly’s retrospective at PS1, the only thought that came to mind was that suicide was inevitable.  Ah, Wangechi Mutu’s show at the Brooklyn Museum was the show for me.  First of all, nobody goes there, to the Brooklyn Museum, so you can really spend time with the work with no one taking pictures over your shoulders.  She creates collages and sculptural pieces that are simultaneously lovely and disturbing, two qualities that I strive for but rarely achieve.  I’m totally going to steal from her this year, so watch out…

On Broadway we saw two Pinter plays, No Man’s Land with Ian McKellan and Captain Picard, and Beyrayal with Rafe Spall, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Pinter can create scenes that have nothing to do with plot or story, just language, how we use it, what it does… Of course there usually is some kind of story, but the dialogue is about the essence of communication and words liberated from silly things like narrative. We also saw the awesome Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum in Domesticated, which takes as its thesis the basic inessential and catastrophe-prone nature of the male of the species. We saw a couple of other things, but I don’t think they were all that memorable, so let’s move on…

We met up with Emily for a traditional Ukranian Christmas Eve repast at Veselka’s in the East Village, followed by American Hustle. As we left the movie, and once again Jennifer Lawrence was dynamite, after having eaten all the same things and with Chrissy and I about to explode, Emily announced that she was going out for dinner. What a metabolism! And she’s like this super skinny chick. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

We spent Christmas lunch eating Swedish meatballs in the West Village and seeing Jia Jiang-Ke’s completely depressing A Little Sin on those stupid little IFC screens that they should really only charge $5 entry to see, then meeting my brother Paul and sister-in-law Debbie at their hotel near Grand Central. Chrissy and I didn’t want to leave their room–unlike ours, theirs had a window. And a view. Not that ours didn’t have a window, or a view, of sorts. Our window opened onto a narrow eternally dark alley that only a pigeon could squeeze into, our view the filthy building windows next door, mounded with pigeon poop dating back to the early days of Broadway. We enjoyed a really great French dinner in the West Village, laughing and stuffing ourselves silly. The next morning we met at the big tree in Rockefeller Center and toured the murals in the GE Building, imagining what Diego Rivera’s mural there would have looked like. It was ordered destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller after Rivera refused to replace Lenin’s portrait with that of an anonymous face. The subsequent murals, by Josep Maria Cert, form an almost homoerotic allegory depicting big beefy white guys constructing modern America in loin cloths–just like I’ve imagined it…

Coco Auf Naxos: Tears und Joy in Koronos

Friday, June 7th, 2013 | Food, Stavros, Travel | No Comments

On the island of Naxos, in the Greek Cyclades, after visiting the giant kouros at Apollonas and on the road to Moutsouna, Stavros and I chanced upon a woman carrying a bag of very nice looking bread. Stavros, interested in procuring as many local products as possible, asked where she purchased her loaves and then we headed to find the bakery in Koronos, a town in the north central mountainous region of the island that we hadn’t really considered visiting, and even on entering, didn’t seem very interesting. Everything seemed closed, the village quiet and still. Stavros asked a man working on a construction project if he knew where the bakery was and if it were open. He said no, it was closed, but that he’d call Matina, the owner of the bakery, and have her open it for us. She quickly appeared and led us up and down the wiggly stairways of the hillside village to her bakery. The cavernous, ancient oven was still warm. For 2€ we purchased one of the last tire-sized loaves of her delicious bread.

Trying to find our way back up the hill on the white steps, past blue-trimmed white house after blue-trimmed white house, we tumbled into a square that seemed like a film set: colorful vine-covered arbors, blooming flowers everywhere, chirping birds, live music… and a taverna called Matina Stavros–a different Matina from the baker, and not my particular Stavros. We settled down at a table on a platform under a tweeting parakeet and near a large group of ebullient middle-aged women from Athens who were visiting a friend in the village. They danced the entire time they ate, taking only a few breaks to fill their plates with Matina’s delicious food. At one point Matina joined in the dancing, and then their bus driver. They even danced over to our table at one point and screamed “Welcome! Enjoy your time in Greece! And this magnificent day! And this magnificent food!” Indeed the food was scrumptious: a selection of homemade cheeses and wine, tender roasted lamb just falling off the bone, dolmadaki flavored with local spices, spanakopita with thick leaves of filo, a salata horiatiki with soft cheese, also homemade… I looked at Stavros and burst into tears.

I still don’t know why I started crying, why so swiftly overwhelmed with emotion. Since my sister’s death, I’ve been walking around with a cloud of sadness hanging over me, but I usually cry in response to things specifically related to her. I had no clue. I tend to get weepy again thinking of the pleasure that I saw on the faces of these women, their easy unrestrained passionate love of life and food and music and each other. The food was simple, homemade, but each plate was perfect, each ingredient lovingly chosen, grown, or hand-crafted. There was the man of my dreams sitting across from me. We were sitting on a stage set in the mountains of an island in the Cyclades. Everything was cinematically pitched towards perfection, but somehow an idea of impermanence, the ephemeral nature of pleasure, maybe, crept over me. I’ve found someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with, but we spend a few weeks together and then months apart. I want to be in this movie always. These ladies were in the moment, and living it as fully as they could. Perhaps I let my such moments get interrupted by a need for something more, something out of reach. Perhaps I was melancholy that I couldn’t share this moment with my sister. Thinking about that day, tears still come to my eyes, but with a new-found appreciation of what’s actually on my plate, while it’s still there anyway.

A Darker Shade of Pale

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 | Food, Friends, Stavros | 1 Comment

I’m back in San Francisco. After an unforgettable month in Greece, Stavros broke up with me, again, about an hour after getting home. I frankly don’t know how to move away from him this time (did I ever? lol) as he’s breaking up with me not because he doesn’t care for me, but because of some partially explained fears, nothing that I can quite understand. When people love each other, don’t they try to figure that stuff out? Doesn’t love have priority? Aren’t these fears actually a reason to stay together? I don’t mean that in a (I loathe this word I’m about to type) codependent way, I mean that it doesn’t seem necessary to eliminate potential bliss in one of life’s departments just because there’s unrelated stuff to deal with in other departments. I’m a compartmentalizer and a sensualist, not a codependent. I can hear the groan from my Chorus of Therapists, but you guys keep it down over there! But seriously, what’s better than love? It’s like I’m waking up in Backwards Land: I love you so much that I’m breaking up with you?

He sent me a note the morning after, saying he just needed some time, so a glimmer of hope to cling to. I’m trying to give it to him, but man, is it hard when we’ve been so intimate and close. The silence is almost unbearable, his absence a profoundly palpable heaviness that I carry with me all day. And he’s a pretty big guy, remember? I’ve tried to hide my disappointment and distress from him, thinking I don’t want to manipulate him into being with me, that he shouldn’t stay with me just because he doesn’t want to see me hurt. This is why I’m crying on your shoulder, Internet.

My homies swept me away on Saturday, up the coast for barbecued oysters on Tomales Bay. We’re on very friendly terms with the staff, as we tend to pass by that way a lot, and they greeted us warmly with big hugs and even bigger smiles, which cheered me up somewhat. The oysters were monstrously large, vulgar really, and barbecued they were like…

Okay, stop the presses. I just FaceTimed with a drunken Stavros, and if I can’t tell a man in love then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Sheesh, I don’t even finish my breakup blogpost and we’re back together again. At least I think we are. I hope we are. He is tipsy, but it seems apparent that he’s struggling against some strong feelings for me. Turn the “no vacancy” sign back on and join me in a chorus of “A Wonderful Guy!” Hurray for love! But wait a sec—will he regret what he expressed when he wakes up? Until I have that ring on my finger, I’m going to be trepidatious. I wish this guy were in therapy. I can hear the therapist telling him to stop resisting and go with what he’s really feeling. (This is my blogpost and my imaginary therapist, so no corrective comments from the Chorus, okay?)

My tan in Greece just looks like a darker shade of pale, or a muddy tone of pink, when compared to the gorgeous golden olive brown skin of the Greeks, but here in San Francisco, where only tourists wear shorts in July, I’m actually tan. I’ve never been this color!

It’s a happy day. A happy happy day.

Sonoma Sausage

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 | Family, Food, Travel | No Comments

My sister Carol and brother-in-law Bruce came out for a visit, to see their kids who have fled West, and visit their recent offspring. Megan, Carol’s daughter, is currently not dating Matt, who works on a ranch in Valley Ford, in Sonoma County, near the coast, beautiful minimally developed hilly farmland.

There seems to be a whole movement in the Bay Area of young ranchers and farmers newly discovering the land and the many opportunities to grow things to consume. Engaged with the whole process, they grow, process, sell, and, in Matt’s case, cook.

We all took a drive up to the ranch to visit Matt and the animals. It’s such a peaceful place, no sounds other than the wind in the trees and the occasional chicken cluck. Rabbits periodically hop by. Matt makes his own salumi from the pigs on the ranch. It’s funny to see him interacting so lovingly with the animals whose flesh he’s going to be flaying soon. Funny, but also nice to see the animals so cared for and blissed out.

Retrovores

Saturday, February 18th, 2012 | Food | No Comments

My bears and I have been playing retrovores over the past few weeks, dining at classic establishments known for serving pretty much one thing one way for years: Falafel’s Drive-in in San Jose for falafel sandwiches; House of Prime Rib for prime rib; and Original Joe’s for Rat Pack Italian. A martini and a steak at Joe’s is one of my favorite comfort meals, although we went for lunch, so I had a grilled vegetable panino and iced tea, kind of more my high-fiber speed these days. The waiters, all male and Italiany, wore dressy black jackets and bow ties. At House of Prime Rib, the waiters were also dressed in black, slacks and vests, evoking the same era’s idea of casual. There’s only one thing to get there, and that’s the prime rib. It rests in a cow-sized stainless steel casket table side, waiting to be sliced and served. The waiters perform individual salad tossings, twirling the bowl as they dribble the 3-week aged dressing in a steady confident and dazzling stream from above. This is a man’s meal: meat, potato, some kind of creamed vegetable and a salad encased in creamy fatness. Vegetables don’t shine here, they serve as vehicles for more fatty pleasures. While fun to experience, my tastebuds are left wanting a little more. And a little less. But still, a whole lot of comfort.

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