A full day

It’s late, I’m tired and we have too much fun to prepare for tomorrow, so I’m skipping the review of the play we saw tonight, An American in Paris.  I liked it, thought the dancing was fabulous, wasn’t all that engaged in what little story it contained.

We went out to dinner after the show, and the most memorable part was the men’s room.  You don’t see attendants in California anymore.  I wondered if the attendant here was getting paid or if he had to pay the restaurant for the concession–this is New York, nothing is free.

He wouldn’t let me take his photo, but here is the counter full of goodies available to the well groomed gentleman.  Come out of the back, and he turns on the tap and then hands you paper towels.  You can choose a cologne, have a mint or a cigarette, try a bit of candy.  The whole process is anachronistic as hell, but kind of amusing.  Except that it costs you a buck (more for big spenders) just to tinkle. I guess he makes a pretty good living for doing mostly nothing.

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Amazingly, the windows in our room open, if only a little bit.  But far enough for me to get my arm and camera out and pointed down.  This is what Times Square looks like at midnight, from the 37th floor.

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That’s a whole lot of people just wandering around at midnight in the sweaty hot night.

Technique is overrated

We visited the Met Breuer (pronouced Broyer) museum today to see the Diane Arbus exhibit (pronounced dEEan.  She was particular about that), In the Beginning.   It is worth a trip to New York all by itself.

The Met Breuer is uptown, at 945 Madison.  It’s a small museum, dedicated to modern and contemporary art.  Because we have so often found excellent restaurants, we went at noon, only to be disappointed by what is essentially a coffee bar, and went across the street for a thoroughly pedestrian lunch.

Returning to the museum, we went straight to the Arbus exhibition and were promptly enthralled by a show of her early work, each photo placed on a separate column in random order–this is a show of beginnings, not a progression.

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Met Breuer, 2nd floor. The admiring throngs for the exhibit Diane Arbus: In the Beginning.

I was enraptured.  Arbus is one of the great photographers, able to create imagery that seems to get at the very soul of her subjects, who she might just have seen on the street for an instant.  Many street shooters attempt to hide the fact that they are taking photos, even going to the extent of using a lens with a mirror attached at 45º so they weren’t facing the subject.  Arbus, in contravention of that aesthetic, clearly chose to actively engage with her subjects–many of them are looking directly into the lens, fully engaged with the photographer and the image.

I read photo books and blogs and magazines, and there is a huge cult of technique that is obsessed with the sharpest possible photos, taken on sturdy tripods and carefully focused to get the last tiny iota of perfection.  Arbus was not of this school in the least, and her work does not suffer for it.

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Woman in a black with a pearl choker, NYC 1956

This photo is out of focus.   So what?  The moment is there, the emotion, the feeling.  A little better focus wouldn’t change the value of the image at all.

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Elderly woman whispering to her dinner partner, Grand Opera Ball, NYC 1959

Poorly focused, blurred by a slow shutter, terribly grainy.  And a great picture.

OK, that’s my point.  The subject, and the photographers relation thereto, is more important that peeping into the tiny intricacies of perfect sharpness and definition.  Diane Arbus shows us the way.

 

Just for amusement, I noticed this picture.  Shot in Times Square, it shows a bible thumper working the crowd, with probably no more success than the sign carrier I posted last night. Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose.

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Sometime you just have to take the picture.

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And here’s the whole gang waiting for me to finish dawdling over the great photos.

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We’re going to see An American in Paris tonight.  More to come.

 

Seeing the Elephant

That’s an old fashioned phrase for going to the big city, and we’re in the biggest city, New York, for a weekend of theater and visiting with the young master, who has flown in from Tel Aviv with his girlfriend, the beautiful Léa, just to see us.  And Hamilton, for which we have tickets for the Saturday matinee.

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Arriving in the evening, the first order of business was dinner.  We went to Bobby Van’s, a classic kind of New York place, all heavy wood, thick linen and obsequious service.

In California I usually have the fish or pasta, but it seemed right to switch to beef here.  Toby and I decided to share the 37 ounce porterhouse steak, and it was magnificent.  Three or four of us could have shared it.

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Poetry in protein. Sirloin to the left of the bone, filet to the right.

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A slab of beef like this deserves two photos.

 

Kate and Brad both chose another East Coast heart-attack-on-a-plate, the steak Oscar.  A filet topped with crab, asparagus and hollandaise.

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I don’t know who Oscar was, but I like the way he thinks.

 

Gail could not pass up the chili, and thought it was one of the best she had ever enjoyed.

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Bobby Van’s signature chili.

 

We sat and enjoyed for over 2 hours, then tottered back to the Doubletree Suites, which is right smack dab in the middle of Times Square, across from the W and the Marriott Marquis.  As usual, the Travel Goddess did right by us.

Gail was ready to hit the sack, but I had to go out with my little Sony camera and see the people.  It’s stunning how big the crowds are at 11 pm on a Thursday night, and how many of them have little children along.

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Traffic is bumper to bumper pretty much all of the time.

The famous steps are full of tourists just chilling, doing nothing, taking a rest and watching the mobs.

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This young woman spoke mainly Spanish, but she has the right spirit.

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The modern day Miss Liberty.

No trip is complete without a religious fanatic or two.  Somebody has to remind the sinners to repent, or something.

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Speaking of sinners, the latest thing here are young women wearing tiny thongs and body paint, who pose for photos for money.  Just what is the difference, really, between a lace top and a thick coat of paint?  Is there some moral requirement to cover oneself in cloth?  Some people get quite exercised over these women, who aren’t (I don’t think) doing anything wrong.  I hope they’re all working on their doctorates at NYU or Cooper Union.

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Can’t complain about a good patriotic paint job, can you?

 

This, after all, is why I ♥ NY

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Tomorrow we go to museums and then a play to be chosen later.  Stay tuned

Like the food, hate the concept

There’s a new place to eat in Lafayette, The Sideboard.  On Plaza street, between the former Squirrel Coffee shop and the abandoned theater, it’s a lovely spot with good food. The “concept”, though, leaves me cold.

The Sideboard looks like an old time country general store, with deer heads mounted on the walls, antiques scattered around, their logo-branded merchandise hanging like a clothesline, mismatched silverware and a collection of old tables that only reminded of what was in my parents house in the 50’s.

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Didn’t everyone have a table like this when Ike was president?

 

There is a large deck in front of the place, which looks like the place to be seen in Lafayette these sunny evenings.

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The Paris of the East Bay.

I don’t think you can really call The Sideboard a restaurant.  It’s a coffee shop, not even a diner.  You have to go to the counter, decide, order and pay for your food, then find yourself a table.

Your food will be brought out to you by a runner, then you will realize you have no silverware so you go over to the sideboard (clever, no?) to collect knives and forks and paper napkins.  Ketchup, Tabasco, mustard, what you will, are there too.  Raw sugar and Stevia for your drinks, but no Splenda or Equal because everything is healthy and organic, doncha know?

I ordered iced tea, as always.  This hit the table:

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You can’t fool me, iced tea isn’t red.  This is a glass of something, but nothing the Lipton people would recognize.  Add enough Splenda (from the stash in Gail’s purse) and it’s relatively drinkable.  Wonder what it is?

I started with a cup of the gazpacho.  I got a very small portion of something red with cucumbers in it.  Not a winner.

Think improved.  Gail and I had a plate of the grilled asparagus, which came crusted with melted cheese and accompanied by some kind of aioli.  The dish was excellent.

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Grilled asparagus.

Next up I had the grilled Ahi sandwich, with wasabi aioli.  Lots and lots of wasabi.  More wasabi than I’ve ever had at one time.  My sinuses are clear.

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Grilled Ahi sandwich with house made potato chips

The sandwich was great, and the house-made chips were spectacular.  I could have this anytime.

Gail had the chili relleno, which looked good and was at least adequate.  They serve two smaller stuffed chilies rather than the one large one which is more common.

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Chili relleno

The bill for all this was $63, including a glass of chardonnay from some unheard of winery in Livermore.  That’s the same price range as Chow, a block away, which has honest to God table service and a decent supply of sweetener.

I like the ambiance at Sideboard, and the food, mostly.  If I wanted to have to go grab my own silver I could have stayed in the college dorms.  On the other hand, this would be a great place to order takeout and bring dinner home, although it’s pricey.

I did save a few buck on tipping.  There’s a big, obvious box with a huge TIPS sign near the cash register, but fetching my own tableware made me think I was in Burger King, and who tips there?

This is the second iteration of Sideboard–the original is in Danville.  I guess they know their market and the concept is working for them, but it sure left me cold.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Just like college again

Our dear friend Margaret lives at Carlton Senior Living, an assisted living facility in Pleasant Hill.  We joined her there today for the monthly Sunday Brunch.  It was just like going back to UC Davis, with some very grown up dormies.  And better food and service.

The suites all have tiny efficiency kitchens, but meals are included so there isn’t much cooking going on.

There were 5 of us at lunch–Margaret, her bridge partner Ernie, Ernie’s sweetie Flora, Gail and I.  Tables were set with tablecloths, good napkins and decent flatware.  The staff were close at hand to help people to their seats or carry their plates, fetch drinks, go back for seconds or clear used plates.  They know everyone by name and habits, of course, so it’s all quick and friendly.

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Margaret, Gail, Ernie and Flora at lunch

The brunch buffet is excellent, with salads, fruits, veggies, eggs benedict, chicken, pasta and prime rib.

This looks like a fun place to live.  There are always things going on–a semi-permanent poker game, somebody playing piano while the group sings along, exercise classes geared to a crowd with lots of walkers and wheelchairs.  There is a regular shuttle service to local stores and civic centers.  It’s like summer camp for grown ups, all year long.

 

Last month Margaret’s grand-nephew got married, and there were no children available to strew flowers down the aisle, so Margaret was elected flower girl.

When the preacher was asked to speak a few words at the reception, he said it was the first time in 33 years he had seen a flower girl drinking a martini.

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Margaret and her grand-niece. It isn’t supposed to rain at outdoor weddings in southern California.

 

Small business survives

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Hard at work at the most casual of offices.

 

America has always been a land of entrepreneurs, forging small business out of grit and a small bankroll.  Here’s another example.

iPhone Joe repairs iPhones and iPads.  Most of his life is spent replacing the glass when someone drops her phone, again, and the screen shatters. Again.  Nobody that I know personally, of course.

You can take your iPhone to Apple, wait for a few days and pay them a fortune, or you can go to the Berkeley Coffee shop on Shattuck avenue, look for the guy in the black visor, and in 20 minutes or so your phone will be as good as new, with a fresh glass and a complimentary new screen protector.

Joe was a Berkeley student when his phone broke 7 years ago, and he found he could fix it himself cheaper and faster than Apple would.  Other people needed help, too, and so a business and career were born.

For years, Joe worked in the window of People’s Coffee.  When they lost their lease, the independent coffee shop moved across the street, becoming Berkeley Coffee in the process.  Joe moved with them, bringing his bike helmet, backpack full of tools and genial manner to a tiny round table where he conducts business daily.

As you can guess, Joe has been keeping our iPhones working for some time now.  I like having a guy I know and trust, and I like being able to get my phone fixed in the time it takes to enjoy a chai latte and a blueberry muffin right on site.

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Yes, his name is really Joe.

The easy way to do things is to make an appointment online HERE then show up at 61 Shattuck Square and look for the guy in the black visor.  You can text him at 626 757-8263.  He’s a good guy.

 

Another winner in Napa

Spur of the minute dinner at Basalt, on the corner of 3rd and Main in Napa last Saturday night.  The Rip called us; we don’t seem to know how to say no to an adventure, any adventure.

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Cowboy Mike, wrangling a glass of red.

Basalt is a beautiful new facility in an old stone building right on the river. Main Street in Napa is already home to a number of world class places to eat–Morimoto, Torq, 1315, Angele and Cole’s Chop House.  How one mostly agricultural town became such a force in the culinary arts is a mystery, but we’re awfully lucky to have all this magnificent food so close by.

At first we were told there were no tables except in the bar, where the player piano was blaring, but then a table miraculously opened up in the loggia, a covered area open to the outdoors and the river view.  Indeed, there were a goodly number of open tables, which made the entire exercise seem bizarre. There is a very long table inside, which seats 22.  No restaurant needs a dedicated table for 22; it’s a huge waste of space.  These places really should ask me first.

I started with the heirloom tomatoes and burrata,  accompanied by fried squash blossoms stuffed with mascarpone cheese.  It was excellent, fresh and simple yet complex.  A wonderful starter.

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Heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese and fried squash blossoms.

Gail tried the ox tail tamal, which she felt was small, dry and overcooked.  She seemed to be a fan of the king trumpet mushrooms that accompanied the dish.

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Ox tail tamal

Although I have no photo of it, I must mention the Chilled Corn Soup, which was spectacular.  I’m a sucker for all chilled soups, and this one was superb.  The spiced créme fraîche made it seem like the soup was made with buttermilk.  This is a brilliant invention, don’t miss it.

For my main course I chose Achiote-Cocoa marinated Black Cod, with baby carrots and green basil vinaigrette.

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Black Cod and other good things.

The fish was cooked perfectly.  Those strips of carrot on top were roasted, or fried, or something that made them crisp without turning them brown or losing their flavor.  The green mushy stuff is, I think, the pureéd green garlic.  Cod is pretty bland, so the chef has to work to infuse all sorts of different flavors into the dish, and he succeeded admirably.

Service was first rate. The runners who brought out the plates described each one, my iced tea was always full, the staff were well trained and attentive.  For some idiotic reason, they do not have any sweetener other than Sweet-n-low, which is just a crummy way to save a few cents.  Gail thinks I shouldn’t object to this, but how would she feel if the only chardonnay they carried was Carlo Rossi, sold by the gallon at Rite-Aid for $5.47?  It’s the little things that make excellence.

There were people sitting two tables over, outside in the lovely evening air.  I was quite taken by the color of their drinks–I see both red and black, but they aren’t mixing.  Is the black a trick of the light?  What can they have been drinking?

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Whatever are they drinking?

Basalt is new, having opened just a few months ago.  I think they will regret the inclusion of that silly 22 seat table, but otherwise this is a gorgeous restaurant in a great location.  Prices ran around $80/person, which is normal for this level of food and service.  We had an excellent meal in a beautiful location.  Now we have one more place to choose from on what is becoming the finest street in the world for dinner.

Meet Michelle

Friends came over for dinner last night, and I inveigled Michelle Schneider in front of my camera.

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I’ll learn how to do this if it kills me.  Portrait models wanted.

Haters gotta hate

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Eyes of instant suspicion

I had a strange and unpleasant experience today while I was taking pictures for my article on the PULSE shootings and memorial.

I wanted to get a few shots of people reacting to the site.  It’s all well and good to show lots of flowers and crosses and love notes, but it’s important to show the people there, too.

Among others, I saw this guy and his two sons, and thought they would be a good subject.  The guy saw me taking his photo, and felt the need to come over and accost me.  ‘Why are you taking my picture?”, he stormed.   I told him that pictures of flowers just go so far, I needed people.

This seems obvious to me, as is the fact that we were in a very public place, I was clearly taking lots of pictures, there were cops everywhere and why would I give a damn about this bozo anyway?

(It is completely legal for me, or you, to take a picture of anything you can plainly see in public.  It is legal to post that photo, for non-commercial use.)

So he decided that he need to take pictures of me to get even, or something.  No problem.  I smiled and waved for his iPhone.  He kept taking photos.  I think he has a close-up of my right ear.

I walked away.  A few minutes later he came back, still taking odd close ups of my face.  I gave him my card with the URL of this blog and told him to check it out–there is nothing for me to hide.  I have done nothing wrong and am not in the least threatened by his ludicrous behavior.

Paranoid jerks confound me.  They are at the same time so self important that they think I care and so insecure that they think everyone is part of some conspiracy against them.  This bozo could have been shown in a good light in my blog, teaching his sons to respect others.  Now he is just embarrassed to be shown as a redneck clown.

 

Not a new tourist destination

It isn’t all fun and pickles.  This is Orlando, where 3 weeks ago there was a horrific mass shooting.  Today, Karl and I went to visit the site so I could share it with you.

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Dozens of people, thousands of remembrances.

The nightclub PULSE is on a major thoroughfare, which was closed for quite some time and now has a lane blocked off to permit visitors to the site access.  The entire building is surrounded by chain link fence and there is an area in front where people have left flowers, signs, posters, candles, pictures and a host of other memorabilia to honor the location where so many died for no reason.

There is a considerable police presence, including a police car parked right in the middle of everything with its engine running in the Orlando heat.  It seemed totally unnecessary given the reverent and respectful attitude of the people attending.  They were very good at parking issues, however.

These are a few of the things people have placed to show their love for the lost.

This isn’t just a local outpouring, either:

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As with any large city, there are people of all political persuasions here.  Nonetheless, this one sentiment seems to be pretty much universal:

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The people there were of all races and nationalities.  Gay and straight.  Quiet and reverent in a way I haven’t seen since I visited the AIDS quilt in the 90’s.

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There have been so many items left at PULSE that many have been moved to the lawn in front of the new Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.  I went there to get a some photos:

 

It’s easy to get all maudlin and significant when speaking of tragedy, but I’d rather be angry and exercised.  Is there any possible way anyone can explain to me how our esteemed Congress was able to vote NO on a bill to limit access to assault weaponry just days after this massacre?  What drugs do our legislators take to let them sleep at night, knowing they are complicit in the ongoing series of bloody rampages that have plagued our country?

We may never know what prompted the assassin to slaughter 49 people the night of June 12. Maybe it was religious fanaticism.  Maybe it was panic over his sexuality.  Maybe he was just nuts.  It doesn’t matter, 49 people will still be dead, 49 families will still be grieving.

The nation, though, will not.  Like the flowers below, the current outpouring of grief and concern, the politicians mealy-mouthed “thoughts and prayers”, will have wilted and shrunk, lost in the mists of time and overshadowed by the next mass shooting, which is sadly inevitable.

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