World Premieres are something that we think happen in New York or London, but last night we were treated to the World Premiere of a new ballet by Garrett Ammon presented by the Smuin Ballet at the Lesher Center. New York is eating its heart out.
If I knew more about ballet, I’d write about it better. There were 3 pieces on the program. I liked them all, but I’m sort of at a loss for words. They were non-narrative works, so there was lots of great dancing to classical music in beautiful costumes. That’s isn’t much of a technical review, but it’s the best I’ve got today.
The costumes, however, stand out. In the first piece they were all in a diaphanous clothing that mirrored the title, Indigo. In the second, the lead dancer was in primary red while the rest of the company were in secondary colors that perfectly complimented the scene. The last piece had everyone in shades of gray, against a gray background. All very alike, all very different. The Smuin goes all out to make the evening a visual feast.
I’ve written about this ballet company so many times I’m out of superlatives. Their run at the Lesher was only 2 performances this time, but you can still see the show in Mountain View and San Francisco. They will be back in Walnut Creek on the 18th and 19th of November with the Christmas show. I’ll be there, you should see it as well.
The weather was great and we own a convertible, so what better thing to do today than go for a Sunday drive.
We wondered over the Antioch bridge and out to the delta, winding our way along poorly paved levee roads enjoying the views, marveling at the houses built behind the levees but on stilts high enough to survive a breach. Lots of them are for sale, if you want a weekend getaway that isn’t all that far from home.
Hunger took over, and I quickly googled “best brunch”, which led us to the Spindrift Marina in Isleton.
All of these places look alike. Dark, cool interiors, lots of maritime geegaws as decor, corny signs and silly gags. Spindrift is no different.
So the atmosphere was right, how was the food? Excellent.
Seafood seemed appropriate, and the waitress/owner said their specialty was the halibut tacos, so that’s what I had. I asked what came with the tacos, and was told “it’s a surprise”. You don’t get answers like that at the French Laundry, but we were out for an adventure, so what the hell?
The lunch got started with a cup of clam chowder that had more bacon than clams–clearly the right way to prepare it. Then the tacos came with beans and rice, my “surprise”. The red plastic squeeze bottle on the table holds not ketchup but chipotle sauce, just the right amount of spicy zestiness for the perfect taco. This meal made me a happy campers.
Gail just wanted a death-food hamburger, and that’s what she got.
Being the healthy eater that I am, I was going to pass on dessert. Gail, who virtually never orders a dessert, pointed out the the Spindrift offers home made spumoni. I graciously agreed to share one with her, and we quite enjoyed the genuine taste of the original Italian sweet.
The Spindrift is run by a husband and wife team, Chris and Sherri, who have owned the place for a dozen years.
Sherri wanted me to mention the $22 steak and lobster on Friday night, with karaoke at 7 pm. $25 steak and lobster on Saturday night, more expensive but you don’t have to listen to the singing.
Who’s interested? I’d love to take a group on a Friday and just party. I’ll be the designated driver, as always. This is a serious offer.
We circled through Stockton and back to highway 4, then came home on Marsh Creek road, which I’ve loved since I had a motorcycle 25 years ago. We got a great view of the back side of Mt. Diablo.
All in all, an excellent way to spend the day, a good lunch, new friends in the owners of the marina. Life is good.
I had to drive from one end of town to the other this morning, and realized I would pass right by the assisted living facility where my friend Hugh Ross now resides, so it seemed only sensible that I stop and visit for a spell.
Hugh was one of my idols when I was a rookie bridge players, and I count it as one of the great boons of life that he became my friend and bridge partner. Bridge may be the most democratic game there is–if I golfed I’d never get to play with Nicklaus or Woods or Els, but I’ve played with a few world class players and against many more.
Serious health issues preclude Hugh from playing at the highest levels of the game, but I got him out to play in local club games a couple of years ago. He still fills in with the other residents of his facility–they surely can’t imagine with whom they are playing.
He looks great, an impressive 6′ 3″ with a magnificent head of hair. His speech is a bit slower, but still has his dry Canadian wit (he’s from Montreal, and attended McGill).
The place he lives seems nice to me He has his own room and bath with cable TV, a good view, family photos and a bed long enough for his frame. There is a day room, a dining room, and a variety of nooks to just hang out in.
Hugh’s wife, Min, visits daily and usually takes dinner with him. I didn’t know it at the time but she was in the same facility, different floor, for a month to get over some issues of her own. She went home today, feeling better.
In about 30 minutes I filled Hugh in on the latest bridge gossip, made small talk about the weather and the quality of institutional food and excused myself before I became a nuisance. One should never keep a man away from lunch hour.
Friends are the important. Make time for them; they would be awfully hard to replace.
You remember that a couple of weeks ago stamps.com rejected my photo of a marble sculpture because it didn’t meet their standards.
Not being the sort to give up, Gail suggested that we take a picture of the back of the piece and try again.
Success!! They don’t object to art, or nudes, just boobs. Impressionistic, nipple-less boobs at that.
The American obsession with breasts, and the equating of them with sin, continues to amaze me. Will people never grow up?
A Cote, on College Avenue in the heart of the Rockridge area, has been a safe, solid, go-to restaurant for years. Not modern, not chi-chi, no molecular gastronomy. Your basic French food, done well. We went there Saturday night with our friends Mary and Ted.
The front of the house is very dark, trying for intimacy in a dining room sited right on the street with plate glass windows.
If you walk to the back, take a left and a right, follow through a narrow hallway past the bustling kitchen, you arrive in a splendid patio, half of which is under roof and half under open sky or a retractable cover. The street noise gone, the sky was blue, it was like a French garden in the country. Sit in the back if at all possible.
A Cote has a full bar, so Ted and Mary decided to start with Perfect Manhattans, which my parents used to drink when we went out. In the old day they came with maraschino cherries, which my brother and I would fight for. The modern style is some very fancy upscale cherry, and I wrestled Mary for one of hers. I wish more people would order that drink so I could steal the cherries, they were really good.
The menu has plates both small and large, so you can eat communally or not. We did both, starting with an order of corn and chantarelle fritters for all of us to share. Chantarelles, the only mushroom fit to eat.
Corn and Chantarelle Fritter with some white stuff.
The fritters were excellent. The accompanying “remoulade” neither looked nor tasted like it should–it seemed to be mayonnaise and pickle relish. Tartar sauce without the tartar. Fortunately, the wonderful fritters didn’t really need any sauce.
I had the green tomato gazpacho.
I thoroughly enjoyed the cold green tomato and cucumber soup, garnished with avocado. It wasn’t until I looked up the menu to write this article that I realized the little white chunks were scallop ceviche–I thought they were some particularly tasteless cheese curd product. A Cote needs to get more flavor into the scallops or just make the soup vegan.
The restaurant has two signature dishes, and our friends ordered them both. Mussels, and pommes frites (the $8 way to spell fries).
That’s an enormous portion of mussels, which the two of them couldn’t finish. The dish is flavored with Pernod, an anise-flavored apéritif. Dunking your baguette in the liquid is a delight darn near as good as eating the shellfish.
The frites were thin and crispy, just the way Gail likes them. Gail doesn’t believe in ordering fries in a good restaurant, but is willing to try a few if someone else is less constrained.
Gail had a croque monsieur, the French way to say grilled ham and cheese sandwich. If you put a fried egg on it, you have a croque madame. Oh, those wacky French.
I, sadly, had the gnocchi with pesto. Sadly because I had a clear and specific discussion with the waiter that I wanted more gnocchi and less pesto–I absolutely did not want a soupy bowl of sauce with some potato dumplings floating in it.
You know what I got. A bowl of pesto and 8 or 10 gnocchi. The pesto was decent, the gnocchi were soft and boring, the dish was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Since it’s a French joint, I guess I can fairly say C’est la vie.
Service was pretty good, except for the gnocchi incident. Prices are reasonable.
The weather gods were kind, and we had a perfect evening with our friends. If you go to A Cote, sit in the back, have the mussels and don’t go near the gnocchi. Maybe you can bring your own remoulade for the fritters, that would be good.
You go to Memphis, you eat ribs. That’s just what you do. Now I sound like a Geico commercial.
Friday night David and I went out for ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendevous, considered by many to be the best place for authentic Memphis barbecue. That description works for me.
The Rendevous is on 2nd St, which is a main thoroughfare in town, but you have to walk around the back and down an alley to get in–I thought I was going to have to know the password, too.
The restaurant has been here for many years, and is decorated in totally eclectic style. There are football helmets, long guns, collections of liquor bottles and glass Budweiser Clydesdales. In fact, there is just stuff everywhere you look. The red checked tablecloths carry out the theme, this is a weird, funky, fun joint.
I went for the classic–pork ribs. This is the small portion, and it was plenty. Memphis style is a dry rub, so the meat is not dripping with sauce, although there are two kinds of sauce on the table to suit you tastes. The flavor is serious and meaty, not all sweet and vinegary like the wet rib places. The cole slaw is not mayo based, but tart and spicy hot. I was a happy camper.
David had the lamb, which was even better. The rub enhances the lamb without overpowering it. Definitely worth a try.
Another benefit of the dry rub:
There isn’t much in the way of variety at the Rendevous. You can’t get un-sweet iced tea, so I had to have a beer. They have a moderate selection and I chose a Fireside pale ale from the Memphis Made Brewing company. Since the last beer I had was in Germany over a year ago, I’m not much of an expert but it tasted good to me.
You’d think they would have a selection of desserts to finish off such a manly meaty beery meal, but you’d think wrong. Eat your ribs, drink your beer and hit the road, Jack. What the hell, prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is fun and the food is good. What more do you need?
From there we went a few blocks down to the famous Beale Street to see the crowds and listen to some blues, The cops block off the street every night, there are bars cheek by jowl for two or three blocks each with live music blasting out, people celebrating life, stores selling mementos and tchotchkes, street performers busking and bars that sell booze right on the street, like New Orleans. BB King’s blues hall is on the first corner, to set the tone of one of the great music streets in the nation.
And that was the end of a very long day. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
David and I spent today sightseeing, and the first thing we did was drive south to Mississippi and have lunch. He found a place called Dale’s, which has been there for 44 years in a burg called Southaven, so that’s where we went.
Dale’s is a monument to southern cooking, but I think I have to live on salads for a week to atone for what I did to my body at lunch.
The restaurant has plastic coated tablecloths and an old fashioned look you don’t see in California.
Observe the packages of “butter”.
The menu has more fried food than I have ever seen. This is the appetizer section:
We ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes, and loved them. They come with ranch dressing, and “Lillie’s tangy tomato sauce”, which is kind of like russian dressing with horseradish. I really liked it. In fact, the fried green tomatoes were probably the hit of the meal.
Picking an entree was more difficult, but I managed to pass up on this one:
I had the fried (what else?) catfish, which came with hushpuppies, creamed corn and candied yams.
The hushpuppies were fantastic, the best I’ve ever had. The catfish was tasteless, the candied yams were like a bowl of sugar and the corn wasn’t much better.
In fact, if you gave a 2 year old a bowl of sugar and a spoon he couldn’t eat as much sugar as this meal contained. The cornbread was sweet. All the food was sweet. I know sugar can be used as a preservative, so perhaps I will now live forever.
David had the fried chicken, and got the largest chicken leg I’ve ever seen.
The chicken was good–David gives it an 8.5. The yellow stuff on the plate tasted like macaroni and Velveeta. I don’t want to know anything about fried okra.
We had to try dessert, because what better way to top off a huge meal of grease and sugar? I had the lemon ice box pie, which is some sort of lemon pudding in a graham cracker crust with cool whip on top. Didn’t care for the cool whip, liked the rest.
David opted for the strawberry pie.
The very best thing about Dale’s, though, was our waitress, Keke. Pretty, bright, funny, helpful, not too scornful of a couple of rubes from the left coast, we fell in love with Keke.
If you’re ever just over the border from Memphis and hungry, head for Dale’s. Ask for Keke, get the fried green tomatoes and extra hushpuppies. You can’t go wrong.
We landed in Memphis after midnight, and were up at 6:15 to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Batesville, AR.
Eastern Arkansas is flat and rural. I saw more tractor and farm equipment dealers than car dealers, and the car dealers inventory was 80% pick up trucks. The fields are all low crops–they grow soy beans, rice and some corn in this area. Land here is still cheap, which leads to roads with wide grassy shoulders, even small houses on large lots and broad sweeping cloverleafs for minor exits. Traffic moves along swiftly and there are darn few police on the highway.
We got to Batesville, population around 11,000. They have a Kroger and a WalMart, lots of churches and 4 motels. Lyon College was founded in 1872, and is the oldest independent college in the state.
The address we had was for the office of the Family Violence Prevention, Inc., (FVPI) the parent organization of the shelter. The shelter itself, Taylor House, does not publish its address as there is considerable confidentiality associated with the building and its residents. David made a call and we drove a few minutes to an older brick home in a quiet area, and found our location.
The shelter is a 3 bedroom house that once belonged to a doctor. When he passed away, his family donated it to FVPI, and they decided to create a shelter for male victims of domestic violence. After receiving the necessary funding, they managed to turn the building around in 6 weeks and create a facility that can house up to 9 persons. Open less than 1 year, they have already served 17 clients and their usage rate is growing.
People laughed when I said I was coming here to work on a documentary about domestic violence against men, but those who work in the field know that domestic violence knows no gender, and there is as much abuse directed at men as there is against women. It just doesn’t fit the narrative of “men are abusers”, and therefore isn’t talked about.
We were there to interview the director, Patty Duncan, and the manager, Bill Miller. They are experts in the field, and run a very professional operation where the clients are not just given housing but a complete program to help them rebuild their lives.
David is making a documentary, titled “What about the men?” addressing the vast issue of domestic violence aimed at men. I was there to carry things, a task I am well suited for. We set up his video camera and he proceed to spend a couple of hours conducting in-depth interviews with Patty and Bill regarding the genesis, operation and philosophy of Taylor House.
I made sure the lights were on and the fans were off. I’m very good at my job.
Although there are some shelters for women that will accept men, Taylor House is currently the only shelter in the US dedicated to assisting male victims of domestic violence. That is changing, and there are a few more coming line as awareness increases.
Taylor House accepts men from anywhere, but they have no funding to bring clients in. Still, some of their clients have come from considerable distances (although the nearest intercity bus station is 30 miles away in Newport) and they have received phone calls from as far away as the west coast. The demand is out there, the supply must follow.
After we “wrapped” (that’s show biz talk for finishing up) Patty took us out to lunch at the good barbecue place in town.
I drove back in the rain the long slow way, through countless town of 100 to 600 people, noticing dozens of churches, past more auto dealers with yards full of trucks, stopped at a gas station where the cashier was covered in needle marks and had teeth rotting away in “meth mouth”, saw dozen of silos full of rice or beans and yet there were almost no political signs in front of the houses. We saw one car with a Trump/Pence bumper sticker.
Taylor House is an impressive achievement that fills a crying need. Arkansas is lucky to have it, and the organization that created it. This being a roadie is fun–maybe there can be more shelters for men so David and I can do it again.
I noticed my bag was hard to pull. Looking down I see that the trusty Hartmann bag is finally falling apart as the wheels are shattering.
LAX is an insane beehive of people, but the quality is the dining establishments has improved immensely. We had fish tacos for dinner and are now prepared to be crammed into an aluminum tube to hurtle across the country. Oh joy.
He’s making a documentary about domestic violence and we’re going to one of the very few shelters for abused men. Yes, men. They exist, and in larger numbers than you think. I’m going along to tote that barge and lift that bale helping out.
If there’s time, we’ll check out Graceland, too. We fly in and out of Memphis to get to Arkansas.
This looks like an interesting weekend. Stay tuned.
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