We went a couple of places! Susan and I went back to Filoli Gardens and this time she brought three of her roommates. I totally morphed into Garden Mom, confidently stating the names of plants that I was only 35% sure about and pointing out garden features that no one had asked about, or cared about, really. Once I realized I was doing it, I told them I would try to stop, but they assured me that Garden Mom is less annoying than Art Dad. Also, I had sort of lied at the gate and got them in gratis on my family membership, and also purchased everyone a canned cocktail, so these savvy twenty-somethings were being very polite.
Speaking of Art Dad, Larry and I met Susan in San Francisco last week for lunch at Plow and a visit to the Asian Art Museum. Plow is an uber-popular brunch place in Portrero Hill. We’ve made vague plans to go there for two years, but it’s one of those no-reservations places, so we never felt we had the time to wait for a table. Well, now, thanks to the virus, we have plenty of time, so we waited. We saw many interestingly dressed young people.
It turns out that people watching is one of the things that I miss the most. Larry’s sartorial and styling choices just aren’t that interesting; and frankly, neither are those of the middle-aged denizens of Los Altos. But the young people of San Francisco are fun to watch! There were also lots and lots of dogs, which meant more to Larry and Susan than to me, since I still don’t like dogs (especially my own, get off my foot and stop licking yourself, Taggart).
After lunch we toured the Asian Art Museum, located across from City Hall in the old Library building. I like Asian art well enough, but what I really like is the cool old building it’s housed in. Larry went full Art Dad and was enthusing about Buddhism. I did like a wall hanging that featured three existential poisons – “the cock of attraction, the snake of aversion, and the pig of confusion”. The pig of confusion, how apt, it’s always rootling around in my subconscious.
Larry especially enjoyed the story about the Buddhist adept Virupa, who, by using his meditative powers to stop the sun, convinced a king to pay for his epic drinking spree. Virupa is usually portrayed in the distinctive “I’ll have another” pose.
I haven’t been able to go many places in person for the last six months, and perhaps because of my yearning for distant shores, I have been reading a fair amount of travel essays and historical fiction.
Way back in March, the New York Times published an article entitled “Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett, Min Jin Lee and Others on the Books That Bring Them Comfort”. It’s a great article and the authors recommended some of my personal favorite books – I Capture the Castle, Pride and Prejudice, A Room With a View, Love in a Cold Climate. Also, the authors interviewed have written some of my personal favorite books – The Song of Achilles, Circe, Eligible, The Summer Before the War, State of Wonder, Euphoria. The article also recommended books I hadn’t read, including Cousin Bette by Balzac.
When I saw the name “Balzac” you musical theater nerds will know where my mind went: “Chaucer, Rabelais, BALZAC!” In The Music Man, these are authors that Marian the Librarian lends from the library and that the mayor’s wife and her ilk despise.
At 500 pages, Cousin Bette was a bit long, but I enjoyed it because it took me to a different time and place – a very specific time and place. Paris in 1846, to be exact. There is a LOT of detail about building layouts, room furnishings, styles of dress, salaries, dinner menus, business endeavors, military honors, and such. There are also extensive descriptions of the machinations of some very, very badly-behaved people, which I enjoyed very much. And descriptions of the virtues of a couple of saintly women, which were not nearly as diverting.
I’m glad I read one Balzac, but I cannot IMAGINE reading the whole of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, “Honoré de Balzac's 1829–48 multi-volume collection of interlinked novels and stories depicting French society in the period of the Restoration and the July Monarchy. La Comédie humaine consists of 91 finished works.”
I found some forums frequented by lovers of Balzac on the internet, and there are people who have made multi-year commitments and read all 91 works and have cross-referenced all the characters and locations and events in the books. At this point, they’ve spent more time thinking about the books than Balzac spent writing them.
Here are some other excellent escapist works that have enabled me to leave my house without, you know, leaving my house.
Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. It’s about his travels in Australia and he narrates the audiobook version. I closed my eyes and imagined being in Australia with him.
Kevin Kwan’s latest, Sex and Vanity, an homage to A Room With a View set in Capri, Manhattan and the Hamptons among a bunch of rich Asians, definitely an unfamiliar world to me.
Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu. The author spends months on a rough trek through Inca country with an irascible old Australian-born guide and some young Peruvian porters.
Michael Palin’s Erebus. You may not know this, but after his Monty Python career, Michael Palin did a series of travel specials for the BBC and went all around the world. I’ve seen all of these and read the accompanying books. (Sahara was my favorite.). At some point Palin got interested in a British ship, the Erebus, that was used in two epic journeys of discovery to the Antarctic and the Arctic. It’s always nice to read about someplace cold when it’s 92 degrees in your un-air-conditioned house.
Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight about her early life in Rhodesia. It made me feel like mother of the year.
Abigail Hing Wen’s Love Boat Taipei, marketed to so-called “Young Adults”, but I enjoyed reading about Taiwan.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, described as a “children’s fantasy novel”, but my journey to Middle Earth was most enjoyable.
Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, a lovely short book set on a Finnish island.
Christina Thompson’s Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a deep dive into the settlement and peoples of remote Pacific islands.
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration, a Great Course available from Audible, exactly what it sounds like, a series of lectures about trips across continents, across oceans, under the ocean, to the moon.
The Insight Guide to Spain 2019. I read the whole thing, took copious notes, looked up a bunch of places on the internet. Estoy tan lista para mi viaje a España.
Now I’d better get back to my Spanish homework, since it’s a group project and I don’t want to be That Person who tanks the group grade. Es la hora de aprender sobre el cine desde de México.