The Los Angeles Book Festival attracts approximately 150,000 people each year and is the largest book festival in the country. Not only booksellers, authors, and publishers attend but also musicians, and local artisans who sell food and clothing. Movie stars present their recent memoirs and children’s books they have written. Cooking demonstrations on some stages promote cookbooks. There is even a tent where you can have your name written in Arabic calligraphy. This annual event, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, is now held on the University of Southern California’s campus.
Authors and publishers are not the only ones to give presentations, discuss their books, and offer autographs. Young children and teenagers discuss why they love reading, what their favorite books are, and school journalists suggest what news is important to them.
A major event for people like me who are writers and who want to know what books are currently being promoted, the Los Angeles Book Festival is a worthy all-day event for anyone interested in entertainment, arts, and culture. A beautiful day of fun and stimulation — I highly recommend you check it out next year. The Los Angeles Book Festival is always held in April.
Recently I attended Patrice Vecchione’s Monterey book launch for Step into Nature, a personal journal of solitary walks in and their influence on her art (as a collage artist and painter) and on her poetry. Step into Nature invites the reader to join her on a quiet and unassuming spiritual journey, a discovery of the symbiosis we share with plants and animals as thinking, feeling creatures. Her book soothes the imagination and brings a Zen-like equilibrium to the reader.
The book launch was jointly sponsored by the Carmel Art Association and Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore and Secret Garden. Vecchione read excerpts dealing with a world of surprising relationships: with a rat, a fox, a puma, an owl, a hive of bees. Her reading exuded her enjoyment and connection with the sheer beauty of mother earth. As Patrice states on her website blog: “I think of collage as a visual poem. Poetry distills experience into language. Often disparate ideas and emotions coalesce. Collage unites images from varied sources to tell a new story….—we retain a ribbon of memory from that day and another from years before. There in that mix are the stories of our lives.”
I look forward to co-authoring an article with Patrice over the summer on the symbol of the rat in Buddhism and evoking empathy.
We had the good fortune recently to celebrate the culinary fare at two popular San Francisco restaurants, Frances (3870 17th Street) and Range (842 Valencia Street). Both had imaginative menus and we felt so lucky being able to reserve a table on a weekend night.
Friday night we dined at Frances, a very small elegant restaurant, not too formal and not pretentious. The key for us is to test the chef’s skills with their small plates. So, we started with bouchées, as distinguished from appetizers. Our party shared the caramelized cipollini onion tart with dates and whipped blue cheese, and the grilled beet salad with toasted pistachios in a fresh horseradish dressing. While tantalizing to the eye—the tart was very tiny and the salad did not meet our high expectations. For appetizers, Frances upped their game with linguine & charred broccolini in a subtle anchovy garlic confît and the spinach and green garlic soup with spring onions and bits of parmesan. The linguine was homemade, and the garlic soup was definitely a winner—not overly creamy but with a delightful blend of vegetables and mild green garlic.
The entrees– Sonoma duck breast with farro, dried mission figs, capers, and walnuts and American red snapper with caramelized cauliflower in a black garlic pistachio cream were delicious and the duck breast was one of the best we have ever had. The fish was a bit overcooked and bland to our taste, but was prepared well for those who prefer very mild flavors. To us the fish looked more beautiful than it tasted. We ordered a side dish of charred radishes and baby turnips, brown butter, caraway and dill, that on their own were a sort of sad vegetables and we would not order it again.
For dessert, Frances’s signature Lumberjack cake of Fuji apple, coconut, and dates, with Muscovado ice cream that tasted like a very rich fruit bread, dense and spicy. We liked it but couldn’t say we loved it.
Saturday night we experienced the Range, a livelier ambience with narrow dining rooms, and started with a large steaming bowl of manila clams with spicy fennel sausage in a savory broth soaked in garlic toast. There wasn’t a drop left. Our entrees were olive oil poached Alaskan cod with artichokes, spring peas, Meyer lemon and arugula-pistachio pistou in a very light broth, California rainbow trout with melted brussels sprouts, black trumpet mushrooms, freekeh-encrusted with a green peppercorn sauce, and their renowned coffee-rubbed pork shoulder with creamy hominy and collard greens. All three were so good we couldn’t decide which we liked the best. And, because we are gluttons, we ordered the decadent chocolate peanut butter mousse cake with honeyed peanuts and salted caramel cream. One dessert like that is a killer—three spoons finished off a memorable meal!
So, gentle readers, I think if I had only one evening in San Francisco then Range is where I would want to eat a dinner away from home. However, if you are in the mood for duck, it would be very difficult to match Frances—even in Paris, I do not think their duck can compare!
More than 200 artworks are now on exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (February 20-May 10, 2015), an exploration of Japanese art and the world of desire (“ukiyo-e”—floating world). Elaborate scrolls, woodblock prints, sculptures, and kimonos are vivid examples of the transient and evanescent world of the senses, particularly the highly rarified courtesan culture for the extremely wealthy samurai and aristocratic classes.
As the Buddha famously observed, a lifespan is like writing in water, a moment of illusion and sensory experience soon disappearing. The Yoshiwara district in Edo (1615-1868), now Tokyo, epitomized a uniquely Japanese subculture of entertainment (theatrical and musical performances) centered on sexual affairs. Special foods and sake were also reserved for those patrons affluent enough to partake.
Into the world of unrestrained indulgence, ukiyo-e artists created paintings, woodblock prints, and sculpture idealizing the beauty of famous courtesans in their private quarters. One of the collection’s centerpieces, “A Visit to the Yoshiwara”, by Hishikawa Moronobu (whose wife was a former courtesan)—is a panoramic guide, a fifty-eight-foot-long handscroll taking the viewer on a journey inside the secret life of the courtesan, the tea houses and restaurants reserved only for the exclusive minority of Yoshiwara patrons.
The seductive portrayals of the Yoshiwara lifestyle are intended to both fascinate and entice the viewer who can only experience vicariously what that world must have been . These handblock prints were produced in multiple editions so cost was extremely low, the price of a bowl of noodles. Ordinary residents could enjoy the luxurious pleasure district in much the same way we are entertained by television and movies. A video of the technical difficulties of woodblock printmaking help the viewer appreciate the technical mastery of this art form by those artists on display.
The subtext for the contemporary observer has to include the darker side of these two exhibits: profiteering from sexual services. Yet there is an intriguing dichotomy: women poets have their delicate images displayed prominently in some prints, often evoking the tentative or ephemeral nature of life itself. Very Buddhist indeed.
Both “Seduction” and “The Printer’s Eye” unlock secrets of complex images, of sexuality and impermanent, with wit, charm, and a breathtaking beauty inherent in the finest detail of a rich life few could partake in. This is a world not to be missed!