“Have more than one idea on the go at any one time.
If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter.
It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other.
I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.”
~ Geoff Dyer, author of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
People have been asking me how I create one of my salon dinners ~ how I set the date, decide the theme, curate the people. More recently, I have been asked how with all the interviews I do, when do I decide to focus on one over another and ultimately weave an article together. I think it’s a good question but one that I hadn’t really thought through the actual process; to me, the time is right when it is right ~ and always more right if I am juggling many different ideas, but of course there is always an impetus ~ and this piece is a combination of various inspirations ~ purchasing April Bloomfield’s cookbook 10 days ago and making her Caesar and Radish Salads for Salon Dinner #49 last Saturday, celebrating my 14th wedding anniversary last Sunday, watching The 100 Foot Journey the day after, and selecting excerpts from interviews with one of my oldest friends (from Junior Year Abroad in Reading, England when I was 19) and his girlfriend Simone, who we visited recently on a Highway 1 family adventure. It was the intersection of these 5 ideas at the perfect moment, that incited me to write.
Opening image, above ~ An image that encapsulates a memory, a moment. Sunrise, September 14th, 2000. The dogana, Venice, Italy. With Ant, Katrin, and Sara.
“To cook you must kill; you must make ghosts—ghosts that live on in every ingredient.”
“The vegetables [in England], they have no soul.” ~ The 100 Foot Journey
Above ~ April’s book of food memories and her journey from Birmingham to NYC ~ with things killed, ghosts that live on, vegetables with soul.
April ~ and her food at Tosca ~ (now executed by executive chef Josh Even) is how I want to remember England. It’s the juxtaposition of the weight of its produce, its history and the lightness of the British wit and humor. I never ate food like this either time I lived in England ~ in 1991-92, and again 1995-96 but I feel like I could now; and strangely it somehow conjures the memory of something that makes perfect sense even though it never existed. At the same time when I was eating these heavy-laden salads and root vegetables I also ate Indian food for the very first time, and it was a flavor, texture and way of eating that I fell absolutely in love with. Whether it was the contrast of place and dining establishments or a simple clash of cultures, I was seduced by the way that each culture in reality and through its food, defined itself in distinction to the Other. I studied this in Jamaica and the disapora but I ate it in England. And watching The 100 Foot Journey conjured this for me ~ the ghosts that exist in what we eat, and the meaning and memory of those flavors we adore. And last week, a day before salon dinner #49, I found myself driving down to Books, Inc on 4th street in Berkeley, to pick up April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig. She and restauranteur Ken Friedman ~ both of NYC’s Spotted Pig and Breslin, took over one (from Jeannette Etheredge) of my favorite places in San Francisco, the iconic Tosca Cafe, and they also bought and are in the midst of construction on the old Lusty Lady, another iconic institution in North Beach. Together, these two places have the possibility of being the hub not only of the creative cocktails and fabulous food that one can expect from the duo, but also the cultural literati that Tosca has historically become known for. It’s a meaningful place to me for many personal reasons that intersect between fashion/film/food. It hovers in the background to my relationship to Italy and my friend Giovanni Augusto Russo’s (who I met aboard the Juliet in Cannes) island Li Galli (which used to be owned by the ballet dancer Nureyev) where I was inspired during my honeymoon 14 years ago to start making clothes for the Sirens; it is also a place where I have taken and been taken by film-maker friends and programmers during countless late-night evenings during the SF International Film Festival. And it is also a place that after many cocktails late night, I always wanted there to be food ~ and not just any food, but comforting food, divine food, food that makes sense within the beauty of the perfectly lit, historically laden space. The space has been there for over 90 years, and has an amazing history of people coming through its doors; adding food to it, a food that is based in an aesthetic coming essentially from England via NYC, of course makes me smile, since I spent a couple years there ~ one of them during that precious time in your life that is full of discovery of and wonder about another culture. It’s this intersection that I’ve always been interested in ~ and this is the beginning of the story for me ~ the way one tells it, whether through film and food in The 100 Foot Journey (and even the music which invoked Telluride 2001, when there was a tribute to Om Puri and an evening ending in listening to the live tabla playing of Zakir Hussein), through raw ingredients and technique re-contextualized in April Bloomfield’s cuisine in Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, or through what it is to live abroad in another country and feel perfectly at home, always maintaining a sense of identity through what you do, and how you do it..
Above ~ Giovanni and I, and his friend Voitek, on Li Galli, aka Le Sirenuse ~ the day I decided to “make clothes for the Sirens;” photo: Lloyd Bernberg.
“Ma le sirene hanno un’arma ancora più terribile del loro canto, ed e il loro silenzio…”
(But the sirens have a weapon still more terrible than their song, and it is their silence.)
~ franz kafka
Interview #39, with Ant Sibthorpe, June 18th 2014, Eagle Rock
I’ve know Ant since I was 19. He is one of my oldest friends on the West Coast, though we met in Reading England on my Junior Year Abroad in the common area of Windsor Hall. When I think back to 1991 and 1992, I think forward to my kids being able to do the same ~ have an experience abroad that changes their perspective, that transforms their lives forever. That was that year for me ~ the Gramby in Cemetery Junction, the upper crust Queen’s Head, the Purple Turtle for music; vegetables with no soul, but Indian food that blew my mind away; pints of cider, raves, The Orb. And our friendship didn’t stop when I left the UK. We would meet up in Boston, Colorado Springs, where he would then stay on for 5 months in the mountains, NYC, Venice, London, California ~ “I loved living in the mountains and not really worrying you’d be okay, but you just had faith that something was going to work out. It’s a classic period of life. you just go along with it and things are going to work out.” But that was that time period, where it is exactly that ~ an exploration to find out who you are; and it’s in reflection that we come to terms with how the past and our choices shape our present and who we have become…
ON VENICE, 1994 ~ “The thing I remember most was the salad boat with the tomatoes and being at your little sink and you instructing me to not only wash the crockery but also rinse the soap suds off (but normally in britain you scrub and leave it).. you had this crazy notion about not wanting to eat the soap.. now i rinse everything.”
ON SOAS, London 1995 ~ “I remember going to Christian’s final show and he was doing that trilogy of books ~ Titus Groans series / Rules Reigns by Mervyn Peake. I remember going to the final show at the school which was weird because I had never been to that part of London before and art school was not my metier. and you were in some fucking tiny apartment that was basically a wardrobe.”
ON VENICE, 2000 ~ “In 2000 you were married in Venice. and the first time I had met Bryan was in Harlem and then in Venice. I remember turning up in some backwater place in Venice, and your favorite cafe Bar da Gino; and Lana taking pictures of us.”
Above ~ The salad boat, Campo San Barnaba. Ant in Dorosoduro, 1994. My sunrise wedding, at the Dogana, Sept 14th 2000. A collage.
Above ~ with Royal. with August in Carthay Circle, California Adventure. The family in Disneyland. Visiting Pixar with Lloyd, Emeryville.
On getting to JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)~ “I was working in London as an archaeologist at the Museum of London. I did everything from straight excavation to archeological surveying ~ positioning the things that you find ~ whether a button, a piece of pottery, a dead person ~ to locating the entire site within the landscape of London so you can build a geographical information system that allows you to relate all of the things from the same period. So I got interested in surveying and did a part time Masters in surveying at East London University. I was working on modeling certain forces on GPS and other satellites. When I finished the Masters, there was nowhere else to go at the Museum so I moved to satellite surveying at UCL and did a Ph.D. in astrodynamics ~ how satellites move in space and what forces affect their motion. That was 2000. Then I did a 2 year post-doc at UCL and during these two years I had interactions with both JPL and Goddard NASA centers. I had face to face time with the engineers at JPL and went to a conference in Monterey and I was told there were some positions available. Hiring foreign nationals involved a lot of paperwork but they believed that I had something to offer…
So I threw away every aspect of my previous life and just started over. It was October 2008. I didn’t want to come with any baggage. Ever since I was a child, it was the period soon after the moon landings, and there was a lot of respect for these test pilots ~ It made a big impression on me as a kid. What does it mean to be in something called a universe? I was on a quest for those answers. I have a picture of Neil Armstrong on my door. More than anything it’s the team of people and the environment. It’s based on respect for knowledge and a quest for the answers. Things are changing in global navigation systems. At one point there was only GPS ~ but now Russia, India, Japan and China all have global or regional systems. We’ve got bigger questions about geophysical processes.”
Above ~ different moments in Ant’s trajectory to now…
On the CLARINET ~ “I was on the underground in London and there was some guy playing Mozart’s Clarinet concerto. It was 2007. It was amazing.”
On CYCLING across America ~ “When I was 13, my father started cycling and I said to him “why don’t we cycle across America?” and then he died and once I arrived I said screw it ~ why don’t I try it. So I saved up holidays and trained for 2 years and went for it ~ 17 days of cycling from Georgia to California.”
ON FOOD, and baking BREAD ~ “I think at some point I just thought, you know what I can do a lot better myself. I didn’t want to eat salt because I don’t like the taste of it. You can make tasty food in the way that you want it and have some ownership in the process and have some understanding of where it came from. I had always been interested in making bread and you can trace this back to my father. It was something he was good at (my mom’s bread was hard as a brick). There is a scientific aspect to baking bread in particular ~ consistency, temperature. But it’s not just the science; there’s also an artistic part. You need to understand the ingredients to get anything worth eating. America was the driving force because I got so frustrated not being able to find bread with very little salt. I started experimenting with standard flour, water and commercial yeast. Then I started looking into sour dough starters. People make it into such a big deal but it really is easy. I still use the original Tartine and the 3rd Tartine book. In the first one there are only a couple different breads, but it is by far the best because it’s simple.”
Above ~ Ant’s bread…which inspired me to make focaccia.
On PHILOSOPHY AND WAYS OF DOING ~ “General philosophy transformed things for me ~ there are so many different and contrary ways to think about the same thing. When I was reading Hume’s Treatise on Reason I first thought about this. I’ve met a lot of people in my life and a vast majority of them can categorize. I am incapable of doing that. I’m left with fragmentary feelings not distinct processes and I think it’s more a collection of feelings that has shaped me and the interplay between the ghosts… I remember when you were reading Duras’s The Lover years ago and you claiming that she managed to write a polyphonic book and I thought you were mental because there was one line, after another, and another…”
LISTEN: to yourself
REMEMBER: good stuff
WHAT: good question
HOW: whatever gets it done
WHY: just because
SWEAR: that’s a good question. that changes regularly. i just like the genre and i like being creative with swear words as well..
put swear words together to make a new phrase.. pig fucker, nut licker…
Interview #38, with cellist Simone Vitucci, June 18th 2014, Cafe con Leche, Eagle Rock.
On TERROIR ~ “I am from South Africa and that is a place with a very European feeling and being in LA is the most opposite of Europe you can get. So I try to keep that feeling more in my life, eating food, wearing clothes that feel European. And I really do miss being in South Africa but I get to travel a lot, and this reminds me of home. Also, I have a British boyfriend. When I was 18 I came to the US to study in Milwaukee for a year, and ended up in Miami. Then I was in NYC, prop styling and I had a little vintage clothing shop in Dumbo called Simone Vintage ~ in my loft space. This was 2002-2004. My dad was a huge influence. He’s an artist himself ~ Meyer Uranovsky. I grew up around people who were free to express themselves through their art and this being a priority. It was an osmosis. There were five of us. My sister Sarita was a violinst, and I was surrounded by art, music, clothes making, food making ~ it was a creative, home made environment where people were always making things. My mom was a doll-maker, made wedding cakes, jewelry, did custom interiors. My brother does stained glass art and sculpture in Israel.”
On the CELLO ~ “I started when I was 9 and I loved it from the start. I loved the resonance of the instrument, the vibration. By 15 I was very serious about it and had a solo in the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. That sealed the deal for me. I thought, this is awesome. My dad played mandolin and the bongo drums and played folk tunes from his childhood in Russia and the Ukraine. So although I always played classical to start with, I loved anything folky. If it sounded Spanish I loved it. I was drawn to that type of music. It’s slow and expressive and has emotion behind it. Like Bartok, who was born in Romania; or De Falla who is Spanish. Their stuff is heavily influenced from where they’re from. Paco de Lucia, flamenco and flamenco dancing. The cello is so perfectly suited to that rich, heartfelt type of playing. It’s very moving and has a deepness of expression ~ like the Norwegian Truls Mork…”
ON WHERE ~ “I am enamored with Prague and Europe. I read the Unbearable Lightness of Being when I was 16 or 17 and thought, I have to go there, it’ so beautiful. And I finally got to see Prague last year when I was on a tour and then traveled there to see it. It was the beauty of the place and you think about creativity and that those buildings were designed by people. I have an affinity to older things ~ vintage. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era. Visually, I love clothing, beautiful fabric, interiors, the tuft of a handwoven couch. They make me really happy. I like bringing this into my house ~ different time periods and cultures, to make an eclectic unified home.
On PERFORMANCE ~ “It’s a rush. First of all, all your work and practice is put into the moment and that moment is there; so it’s this high. There’s something that happens when you perform in front of people ~ the adrenaline ~ it brings out the true creativity. You are inspired by that exact moment and can’t recreate that anywhere else. There’s a freshness and excitement that come from the audience being there. Two most memorable performances were solos with the Cape Town Orchestra. The first I was 15 years old and played the Elgar Cello Concerto; the second I was 18 and played Max Bruch “Kol Nidrei” which is played on the first day of Yom Kippur where you ask for forgiveness. These were turning point recitals for me. It has to be memorable, it doesn’t have to be perfect. The third performance was in NY ~ a cello and a guitar, playing some Spanish piece, on Gansevoort Street in the Meat Packing District; and Tan Dun in Chinatown ~ a cello and 4 percussionists. Of all the concerts I’ve played all over the world it’s more about playing the music I want to play in a small venue ~ the more intimate performances.”
Above ~ On Arsenio Hall Show, with Illusionist Ivan Amodei ~ “I have been working with the show Intimate Illusions at the Beverly Wilshire for 3 years; and this was the first time I got to go to the Fairmont in SF. As a freelance musician you do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and this is something that’s really fun to do because i get to dress up and i get to play solo. the music is a big component and I happen to love when i’m playing solo cello ~ I have my own voice.”
On TEACHING and CHROMA ~ “I love teaching people who have had it in the back of their minds waiting for the right moment and realize there isn’t a right moment. They enjoy the process of learning even when it’s slow and lugubrious. It’s very fulfilling for them and me when the cello has the right sound… I love all the projects that I do myself like the kids group Chroma. The things I do out of pure passion with no financial expectation. That is the bulk of my energy and I don’t begrudge it because there’s no financial gain ~ I like to keep my own voice as an artist alive…”
EAT: food Drink: water WEAR: vintage
LISTEN: all around, there are sounds everywhere
HEAR: the details
LOVE: Ant ~ he wants me to be the best version of myself. He made this whole world come about for me that I didn’t know I was capable of…
REMEMBER: my past..the pasts of my peoples, their histories, sufferings, and triumphs. There are many lessons to be learned.
Forget: (that’s a good one)
Where: europe, budapest, prague,
my beloved Capetown.
What: creativity, expression, both.
How: with love, passion, energy, devotion.
Why: because there’s no other way
Swear: my staple is just shit. but Ant has introduced me to a lot of other swear words.
Above ~ Salon dinner #36 (Dec 2013), with Lana photographing the table of guests ~ Basil Bouris, Lloyd Bernberg, Scott Constable & Ene Osteraas-Constable, Daphne Miller & Ross Levy, Marielle Heller & Jorma Taccone, Kathleen Henderson & Cal Peternell, Heike Liss & Fred Frith, Charles Ferguson, Maria Zizka, Mark Schapiro & Zoe Carter, Ant Bollox & Simone Vitucci, John Randolph, Heather Capiello.
“I speak and speak,” Marco says, “but the listener retains only the words he is expecting. The description of the world to which you lend a benevolent ear is one thing; the description that will go the rounds of the groups of stevedores and gondoliers on the street outside my house the day of my return is another; and yet another, that which I might dictate late in life, if I were taken prisoner by Genoese pirates and put in irons in the same cell with a writer of adventure stories. It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.” ~ Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
(above Italo Calvino text ~ part of our vows for our ceremony in Venice, Sept 2000; and part of the music composed by Dorsey Dunn, with vocals/ Alexandra Matthew, for my very first runway show “Shedding Skins,” in Berkeley, September 29th 2001 ~ part 1, part 2, part 3 ~ co-produced/video by Lloyd Bernberg, visuals/Chris Natrop; camera/Patrick Grandaw; BACCA curator/installation/Giordano Pozzi . Models ~ Camalo Gaskin, Swati Argade, Britt Dionne, Racheal Matthews, Tania Haddad, Nadine Campeau; with Camille Labro and Eve Bitoun/video. Backstage ~ Cady Sherman.)