Saturday, July 31, 2010

OMG, It's a Cake

An outstanding example of a France-US dichotomy: rather than the exquisite jewel-like pastries in the windows of any patisserie in Paris, this Oakland bakery is featuring...hamburger cake!

We're ready to go back pretty soon.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Reconstruction of the Bay Bridge seems to have been going on forever.  After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake it became clear that the eastern part of the bridge had to be replaced but politics and economics delayed that for many long years.  Now, finally, you can see the light at the end of the bridge.  The new part is being built alongside the old and eventually one will replace the other.

The western half, from Treasure Island to San Francisco, will remain. The new part looks bright and shiny, but the design is pedestrian, with nothing of the excitement, one might even say splendor, of the older section.  The criss-crossed girders, the slim cables under tension from the top to the roadbed, this is what a bridge should look like.  It makes driving into San Francisco an event, even in the fog.  On a sunny day it's glorious.

The other day, longing for some sun, we decided to drive north to Sonoma.  This little town retains some of its charm, in spite of the enormous numbers of tourists wandering from shop to shop and restaurant to restaurant.  There's still the town square, with the City Hall in the center, built from huge rough stones, the lawns, the rosebushes, the ponds with ducks paddling slowly between clumps of reeds.  It really does anchor the town and there are always people sitting on the benches and children playing on the swings.

The town grew around the mission San Francisco Solano, the last of the long series of missions built from the Mexican border to Northern California between the mid-16th to the mid-18th century.  The mission is still here, just off the square, down the street from the old army barracks, the restored hotel and the rest of the buildings making up the Sonoma State Historic Park

Leaving history behind, we drove over to the Napa Valley to have a glass of champagne at Domaine Chandon, set in pretty grounds downhill from the Veterans Home in Yountville.  This is only one of several partnerships between California sparkling wine makers and French champagne houses. From the parking lot you pass a startling field of mushrooms under the trees lining a little bridge.  It takes a second or two to realize they're made of stone, an art installation there to please your eye while the bubbles please your palate.

Speaking of pleasing the eye, I don't think I've posted any photos of the beautiful fruits we've been seeing at our local Monterey Market.  The slightly dusty-looking plums, the blushing peaches and nectarines, have kept me very happy all summer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the Coast

Rocks and sand and water...

and driftwood...

and lazing in the shade...

and country stores on forgotten streets.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July and Juillet

The famous fog came rolling in just in time to obscure any fireworks we might have seen over San Francisco Bay on the 4th of July, but the pleasantly cool weather made me feel, for nearly the first time ever, happy not to be in sweltering Paris.

By the 14th of July, we were having our own little canicule, a mini heat wave that lasted only a couple of days, but had us celebrating France's Fête Nationale by lunching outdoors on the arbored terrace of Chez Papa in downtown San Francisco, where they were wrapping the pillars in blue, red and white crepe paper.

We haven't been into SF very often this summer but once there, we swear to ourselves we'll come more often.  It's a really nice city.  The little stretch of Market Street between 3rd and 5th Streets has some stunning building facades, including this green and cream tile beauty

and its neighbor with terra cotta details and spread-winged eagles overlooking the trolley lines and framing the windows.

Across the street is the famous Samuels Clock, now a protected historical monument,  

erected by Albert Samuels, a San Francisco jeweler, at the time of the Pan Pacific Exhibition of 1915.

So when we're not in San Francisco, where are we?  Well, often we're eating very good meals in the burgeoning little restaurant district known as Temescal, in Oakland.

Temescal is home to Doña Tomás, a real Mexican restaurant, producing delicious meals, not one of the ubiquitous and sometimes iniquitous burrito shops scattered around the Bay Area, home to Pizzaiolo, an Italian restaurant producing the best pasta and pizzas outside of Italy, and home to Bake Sale Betty, who made a little corner bakery into an institution selling fried chicken and spicy coleslaw to the hoards of hungry people lining up to eat their lunches on the ironing boards serving as tables on the sidewalk.  All this on a single block.  And across the street...well, there's more.  In fact tonight we'll be at Burma Superstar, enjoying a cuisine not easily available in Paris.

When I was in college I lived for a time around the corner from this block.  None of these places existed then, it was a little sketchy as a place to live, and you had to go to San Francisco to find a good restaurant.  I should have stuck it out a few more decades.  It's all there now.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

High Spirits

Maira Kalman is brilliant.  A writer, illustrator, artist, designer and all-around talent, she has written and illustrated children's books, adult books, many New Yorker covers, and blogs for the New York Times among many other things.  When he was young, my nephew and I spent many hours reading and re-reading Ooh-la-la (Max in Love), from which we learned that speaking French properly is easy: just hold your nose, stamp your foot, say "non, non, non!" et voila!  Kalman's year-long 2009 New York Times blog "And the Pursuit of Happiness"  is one of the best summaries of what America is I have ever come across.

So when I received an invitation to attend the July 1 opening of her first major museum exhibition,  “Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, you can believe I went.  She was there signing books after speaking to an audience (which I wasn't a part of, since it filled up very quickly).  Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take photographs inside the exhibition, but this copy in her handwriting of a letter from Proust to la Princesse de Clermont-Tonnerre was tacked to the wall outside.  It gives you a taste of the kind of thing she draws and is drawn to:

 (My Dear Madame, I just noticed that I forgot my cane at your house yesterday.  Please be good enough to give it to the bearer of this Letter.  P.S. Kindly pardon me for disturbing you, I just found my cane.  [signed] Marcel Proust)

The exhibition contained more than a dozen New Yorker covers, lots of drawings from her various books, and ephemera like a wooden ironing board with lists under glass of colors mentioned in the text of Madame Bovary.  How can you not love someone who does something like that?

The rest of the evening continued in the charming vein; as we left the museum we came across a band playing Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" for an enthusiastic group of dancers, some of whom were clearly proficient at 1940's style swing dancing.

One woman was In the Mood (pun intended) to celebrate the 4th  of July (US Independence Day), just around the corner.

And this morning we turned that corner and we're off to a party where there will be barbecue, cold drinks, fun and fireworks.  With any luck the usual July fog will stay offshore and the sun will shine until darkness falls.  A perfect day is expected.  And the same wished to you all.

(Note to my dear cousin Tusia: this blog post is for you.  I love you and miss you.)