Here’s my most recent discovery about TSA regulations: Peanut butter is a liquid. Is that obvious to everyone but me? It sure was obvious to the guy who took it away from me. He acted so surprised that anyone would be dumb enough to try to get through security with something so that so clearly violated the TSA’s precise and logical rules. I was publicly chastised for miscategorizing the viscosity of my jar of pulverized nuts and so I was the one holding up the security line, as annoying to my fellow travelers as the novice who doesn’t know to take her laptop out of her backpack. Not to mention having the substantive half of the only food I brought for my cross-country flight taken away. I was forced to buy an egg and cheese bagel for $7 that was, mysteriously, sweet.
I try not to complain so much about all the hoops we have to jump through to get on an airplane. I heard Louis CK talking, once, about how silly it is to complain about the minor inconveniences we have to “suffer” through so that we might sit in a chair in the sky and be transported, in a few short hours, across distances that used to take months and involve the certain death of a good part of the traveling party. Not to mention taking advantage of technologies that are incomprehensible to the vast majority of their users. I took that to heart and try to keep it with me whenever I’m in the airport.
But the peanut butter incident was hard. I realized, that morning, how much pride I take in the way I get through a security line. My shoes are easy to take off. My water bottle is empty. I’m not wearing a belt or jewelry. I scan in advance to see what the particular rules of an airport are, as they are all slightly different, though their enforcers assume universality. And then, suddenly, I was an ignorant rube, standing, in a public place with my shoes off, holding up other people’s travels as I argued with an unshakable authority, who had just taken my food away from me. My dignity slid away from me so easily. And, yes, I walked away just as easily, had plenty of money to buy more food and got to sit in my chair in the sky and be magically transported home, but, still, that sting was real.
Does anyone want to bring us a cake, maybe arrange a little surprise party? Welcome, Cupertino Inn, to the 21st Century! Here we sit, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, where the future is being invented moment by moment, and we, the quaint little Cupertino Inn, had the wireless service you might expect of a bed and breakfast somewhere in the arctic circle up until about three weeks ago. Well, no more! It’s 2013 and we are proud to announce that you can now get fast and reliable wireless service anywhere in our hotel. That’s right, even in the bedrooms.
Why on earth did it take this long, you ask? Or, to be precise, you have asked, over and over and over through the years. Why did we stand by, as fast, free, reliable wireless became the norm, probably even in the arctic circle? Well, the murky, elusive, answer, if you want my opinion, has something to do with having an aging Midwesterner at our helm. Yes, I know, she seems so youthful and hip, our general manager, until you back her into a corner like this one. For years she called the problem unsolvable, even as we watched her navigate much stickier situations, and though we wanted to believe that she was giving it all she had, how much, really, can you trust that a woman who checks her email once a day and doesn’t even have a facebook account, is prioritizing constant access to the internet? Not that there’s any real evidence, I just have my suspicions.
But, however we got here, here we are! We’ve arrived in the future, to join the rest of you.
Today the Golden State is looking a little more like dull silver. I try, on these rainy days, to cultivate my dad’s appreciation for the drama of a storm. This is always easier if I can find all my rain gear, which so far today I cannot.
Looking for it, though, I’m reminded of something really special that I saw on the street in New York, on another day when I was caught without an umbrella. I was out and about, in the middle of what was to be a long day, and suddenly it was pouring rain. Well, probably not suddenly. Other people were pulling umbrellas out of their bags, meaning that it had been possible to know that it might rain that day if I had paid attention.
Still, I was in New York, where a great thing happens that I have thus far not seen happen anywhere in California. Within moments of the first raindrop hitting the sidewalk, there was a man on every corner selling umbrellas for $5 or $10. I rushed up to the first one I saw, asked for the $5, smaller, version and handed him a $20 bill. I think I didn’t notice he was blind until he asked me what I had given him. When I told him, he asked another umbrella seeker to verify what I had said and when my story had been corroborated, he made change for me. That third person was neither with me nor with the umbrella man, he was just another guy waiting to buy a tiny piece of shelter and so, though we two could easily have been winking and nudging and swindled an old blind man, he actually made a great reference.
That’s stuck with me for years, an old blind man’s system for trusting the world. He didn’t have faith in any particular individual, which is reasonable, but he did have faith in random strangers holding one another accountable. That is, he had faith in the larger community of people in general. And, in fact, faith isn’t even the right word, because it was working, out there on the street. People were keeping each other honest.
Anyway, enjoy the rain, it’ll be gone by tomorrow.
A bit late for Valentine’s Day, but still in the right month for romance, I thought I’d tell you about a sweet little thing to do with someone special. On the surprisingly beautiful Lake Merritt, just minutes away from Downtown Oakland, you can take a gondola ride. The boats are identical to the ones that might exist all over the world but that I, personally, have only ever seen in Venice. The gondoliers even wear black pants with black and white horizontally striped shirts and those funny hats. It’s all very authentic.
Here, even, are a few reasons why riding a gondola in Oakland is better than doing it in Venice: First, there are only a couple of gondolas in Oakland’s fleet and, really, there’s mostly only one out at a time. If you, then, are in that one that’s out, then you’re doing something special. In Venice, where there’s a constant gondola traffic jam, the experience can, perhaps, feel a little less personal. Second, someone told me recently that Oakland has the most temperate climate in the world. Whether or not that’s true, one thing I can guarantee is that’s it’s milder there than in Venice. Meaning that you will never, ever go out in a gondola in Oakland, even on the hottest day of the year, and worry that you’re going to die of sun exposure. Not true of Venice. And, last but not least, as I learned last summer, riding a gondola in Venice costs many, many Euros. Riding in one of Oakland’s copycat gondolas is much more economical. Not that saving money should be a factor when you’re planning your perfect romance, but, then, throwing tons of money away on a generic experience that, in real life, turns out to be a sweaty, tourist trap isn’t so very romantic anyway. It’s better in Oakland.
I’ve got some really exciting news for you this month. A full two weeks before daylight savings hits the rest of the country, Sunshine has come back to our little hotel. A lot of you, I know, will remember the aptly named little beam of light that used to shine from behind our front desk. She moved away last fall and we, and she, thought we were saying a permanent goodbye. Happily, it turns out we only had to make it through the winter without Sunshine. What a sweet thing she did, just making us live through a bit of poetry and then coming back.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll soon be seeing a small, shining girl when you check in and out. She shines when she smiles, she shines because she weaves bits of gold and silver into her hair, she shines because even the tiniest blank surface, to her, is a place for a rhinestone. And then, when you come close enough to read her nametag, you’ll see that she’s called Sunshine.
By the time you read this, she’ll be back at work. Whatever didn’t work out for her in Southern California, we hope it wasn’t too painful, and we hope to not show too much overt happiness about her misfortune. We are, however, truly very grateful to have our Sunshine back.
I do not have a restaurant recommendation for you this month, I’m sorry to say. This month, unfortunately, I have a few words to say in memory of one of my favorite chains, recently departed.
Fresh Choice opened when I was in middle school. It was the place my health conscious father found to take my brother and me where we could dump as much cheese and oil on our plates as we wanted and he could feel safe knowing it was still less than we’d be given at any of the places we said we’d rather go to. For some reason he called it Fresh Fish.
In high school it was the place I went to with my friends. We’d go in a group of four or five, two would pay and the rest would say they were just going to hang out. But it was an unsupervised, all you can eat buffet and once we were in, especially if it was busy, no one ever tried to stop the unpaid members of our party from heaping up their own plates. We’d sit for hours and even go so far as to come away with bread and muffins in our purses.
At the end of high school, my mom brought a new man into our lives. This will always be an awkward endeavor, I suppose, and he and my brother and sister and I had spent weeks doing little dances around each other. That tension broke one night at Fresh Choice when this gruff, respectable, business-type guy started a full-fledged food fight with us. It was just what we needed. And Fresh Choice, being the wild west of restaurant dining, was very obliging. I don’t even remember anyone trying to chastise us.
But as of last December, Fresh Choice is dead. Victim of the economy, victim of Sweet Tomatoes, victim of the salad bar at Whole Foods. Who knows. For all this big lament, I stopped going a long time ago. I guess everything has its cycle.
Every winery I read about, month after month, professes some relationship to the history of their craft. True, some claim rebellion and superiority, but this is still a relationship. Of those that offer respect, and intend to be working in the lineage of traditional French winemakers, Terra Valentine stands out in one significant way that may or may not be purely superficial: Their facility is the closest thing to a replica of the ancient stone buildings that house the winemaking operations in France, that I’ve seen outside of France.
As I said, this is an observation of the way they’ve chosen to decorate themselves, and doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the wines they make, and yet they’ve gone to great lengths to copy that medieval architecture and décor. This says something, to me anyway, about their dedication to the particulars of the lineage they’ve chosen. Their counterparts mostly decide to house their ancient craft in more contemporary digs, after all. Plus, might the accuracy of the execution of this ancient design possibly bode well for the way they get into the details and history of their winemaking? Could be.
Come see for yourself. As you know, 5-7pm every night in our bar is the time for experimentation. Try a red, try a white, go back to your Bud Lite. We don’t mind.
The benefit of writing a blog is that I can that I can write about things that are happening right now. The downside, of course, to writing a blog for a hotel, and so knowing that of the very few people who will read this, an even smaller number will actually be in town, is that telling you about things that are happening right now might only be frustrating for everyone. In general I will try for a little more advanced warning, I promise, but just in case anyone reading this is here in town now and wondering what to do this weekend, I saw a very, very beautiful show last night and I think you should go check it out.
The company is called Body Cartography and they’re presenting a show called Symptom at a little theater in SoMa called CounterPulse. I have some sense that the moment I tell you that it’s minimalist contemporary dance, I’ll lose everyone’s attention, and, let me be honest, for the first 10 or 15 minutes of last night’s show, realizing that that was the genre of performance I had come out for, I, too, was crawling around in my seat, wondering how to survive an hour. And then something shifted and I realized that I was in the room with people who could justify the form.
Anything that becomes a recognizable genre, and then turns into a horrid mess of mediocre cliché, came into being because someone made a beautiful innovation. Can we agree on that? Re-listening to Pearl Jam lately, I find myself stunned by Eddie Vedder’s haunting passion, and yet I shunned him for years because groups like Matchbox 20 and Nickelback convinced me that emotive male front men were a puddle of saccharine slime and that fond memories of, say, Yellowledbetter were just adolescent folly.
Back to Body Cartography. There is a man named Otto who, should you take the leap and go see this work, will show you the pinnacle of what’s possible in the form he’s working in. It’s so rare to see a master of anything, mostly we only get the imitations. It might still not be your thing, the way some of you might listen to a Pearl Jam song, acknowledge its merit and then fall back into the arms of Bach or Kanye or something, but if I’ve piqued your curiosity even a little bit, go check it out. I think you won’t be disappointed.
Happy New Year everyone! Chinese New Year began yesterday and I hope you’re all prepared for the year of the water snake, because to me it’s sounding a little scary. One of the things, for example, that we are cautioned to remember as we enter the realm of the snake is that the snake can swallow an animal larger than itself. Don’t underestimate the power and ambition of the snake, we are warned, though if left undisturbed he will not attack. A good year, then, for keeping calm in the place you’ve already found. Let sleeping snakes lie, if you will.
On a brighter note, Chinese New Year is a big deal in the Bay Area. So big, in fact, that in San Francisco it’s actually a school holiday. Families started celebrating Sunday and will continue for two full weeks. The festivities culminate with a parade that boasts of being on the list of top ten parades in the world, as well as the largest celebration of the Lunar New Year outside of Asia. It’s on Sunday the 23rd this year and, if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s really something to see. Acrobats, martial artists and a 200-foot dragon just begin to describe what you’ll find there. And don’t forget that fireworks were invented in China.
In the meantime, each of the days of the next two weeks has some special designation and there are a few you might want to look forward to. The fifth, for example, which is this coming Thursday, is Welcome God of Wealth Day. Sounds good to me. Then the tenth day, which is the following Tuesday, is Eating Day, which also seems good. Watch out, though, for the twelfth day, aka Diarrhea Day. That one makes me wonder about the translation I’m looking at, but, whatever it else it may be about in it’s original Chinese, it’s for sure a reminder to exercise caution on Eating Day.
This crazy cultural salad bowl that we live in can be as wonderful as it is difficult and alienating. The Chinese New Year festivities are a great example of why all the hard work is worth it. Gung Hay Fat Choy everyone!
Do any, or all, of you watch The Big Bang Theory? I recently saw an episode where one of them, whose name I don’t know, was skyping with his girlfriend from a space shuttle, or something. I guess he’s an astronaut. Clearly I’m not such a huge fan. But, anyway, before she got off their video chat, he said he wanted to watch her do something. He said he missed gravity and he wondered if she would drop something so he could watch it fall. Watching objects drop sent him into paroxysms of bittersweet, ecstatic envy.
Well, my weary, over-traveled friends, I wonder if a description of my day yesterday will do the same for you. Have you been eating in too many restaurants? Are energy bars and candy bars being called meals in your life? Are you exhausted by the need to go out, three times every day, to figure out how to make your stomach stop rumbling? That, anyway, was me in the last few weeks.
Yesterday, though, I took control back. I made a huge pot of sweet potato lentil soup. I roasted a chicken with lemon and garlic. I baked some oatmeal cookies that are almost very healthy, except for the chocolate chips I threw in. I bought lots of fresh, crisp greens for salad. Sounds good, no? Days and days of the particular decadence of rich, warm things made at home. This is the stuff I dream of when I’m traveling too much. If you’re the same then maybe, hopefully, I’ve just given you and equal mixture of vicarious pleasure and envy. Home can be so good.