Sunday, September 30, 2012


I’m sitting in San Francisco Airport waiting for my flight to Seattle, a good place to contemplate this wonderful first six days of book tour. The Bay area is so conscious of Asia, and people are very open to new ideas. And so there was a huge turnout at Omnivore Books for my talk, and at the Asia Society dinner cooked by Alex Ong, and great reception generally at all events and in conversations.

But what struck me this trip, apart from the lovely early autumn light in San Francisco and the beauty of the drive over the Golden Gate, was how many conversations I’ve had with strangers. I’m not talking of interactions at events. I mean those chats at a lunch counter or a sushi bar, or wherever. I chatted with a woman from Brazil the other night at Sakara a simple and good sushi bar; and last night at the same place with a young guy from Melbourne. Everyone’s story is interesting at some level, and my head is filled!

On Tuesday late morning I went to the SFMOMA, a spectacular building, and after time with their permanent collection on the second floor (the vast black and white tile floor by an artist whose name I forget was mesmerising, and lots more), and with the Cindy Sherman show, I headed up to the roof garden. 

It was bright and sunny up there; a cold Italian lemonade from the bar hit the spot. There were sculptures in the glassed area and out (a colourful Calder, a Louise Bourgeois that looks like a nest of gigantic metal spiders, etc), but the most astonishing “sculpture" was the kinetic one above our heads. The tall building next door was being retrofitted, with a tall crane, and elevators sliding up and down outside, everything in severe geometries, except the sway of the crane wire. It was mesmerising, all of it.

Several other people were gazing up, an attractive stylish tall guy with a camera taking shots occasionally, and a woman sitting on a bench near me. And so we fell into conversation. It turned out that both were artists: he teaches drawing and photography in Oakland, and she is a sculptor based in London. I felt very pedestrian in comparison! And the conversation was warming and engaged, a lovely moment between strangers.

And what a place this is: 

Earlier in the week I made a trip to Santa Rosa to tape an hour long radio interview with Steve Garner and John Ash, a real pleasure.  And then on the drive back down 101 into the City I had one of those magical times: retro vinyl on Sirius radio (by happenstance) and airy white fog drifting in from the ocean. The combo made the roller coaster ride down to the Golden Gate and onto the bridge both hallucinatory and breath-taking. Who needs drugs? I found myself musing, think of the California scene in the late sixties that I missed entirely. The bay was blue, filmed over with faint mist, the bridge was like a giant's sculpture, mysterious and powerful, and oh so graceful looking from afar.

Once on the bridge I could see the huge curves of red-panted suspension steel arcing upward until they disappeared into the white mist, like some engineer's idea of heaven or rapture. Truly awe-inspiring.

I wrote the preceding paragraphs a few days ago. Since then I’ve had a remarkable visit to Book Larder in Seattle, and to the kitchen of the Modernist Cuisine people (astonishing and strange, and very hospitable explaining everything to me); a flight to Toronto; a lightning train trip to Kingston to speak at the Authors’ Festival (and have a really pleasurable lunch with friends); an over five hours marathon Nuit Blanche last night in Toronto; and now here it is Sunday evening and I’m packing to head out tomorrow morning on tour: this week to NYC and Miami.

Wild schedule, and fun, as long as I remember to draw breath and pause occasionally. I tend to want to forge ahead and engage with every interesting person I meet. There are a lot of fascinating people out there. But sometimes this greed for new stories and connections is foolish and needs to be reined in. I need to pace myself. That’s what I say to myself when I remember.

Tomorrow night Sara Jenkins is cooking from the BURMA book at her restaurant Porsena, celebrated for its Tuscan and other rural Italian food. She’s looking forward to it, and so am I. A lot of friends are planning to come, people whom I haven’t seen for awhile. And there is a dinner with Les Dames d’Escoffier on Tuesday; a small talk at the Rubin Museum at Himalayan Happy Hour (where food from BURMA will be served) on Wednesday night; and an appearance at the library in Greenwich CT on Thursday night to give a photo talk.

This is a blogpost full of lists. Sorry! But somehow the tour feels like a succession of things/events/dates. The only thing to do is separate them with semi-colons!

Next day I fly to Miami to speak at a bookstore in Coral Gables. I’m excited, never having been to Florida before. I’m packing October clothes for NYC and a few light cottons for Miami. And I’m hoping to eat Cuban food there and see some of the Art deco buildings.

Yes, book tour turns me into a tourist, when I get a moment, gawking at the new, trying to make sense of it.

Next weekend it’s already Canadian Thanksgiving (first Monday in October). But the days are still warm, the leaves barely started turning, the eggplants in my garden sweet and ready and still making more babies. (I made a pasta sauce with them today, so delicious.)  

But the light is slanting and the wind cool, and we all know what comes next...

1 comment:

gluttonforlife said...

I'm here to report that the dinner at Porsena was an undisputed success—convivial atmosphere and delectable food, cooked straight from the new book to much acclaim. And the author herself does not disappoint in person: gracious, witty and very lovely.