Sunday, September 27, 2009
Cafe Maude is rather odd.
It's a hot spot in a sleepy southwest Minneapolis neighborhood that, before Maude opened, had never seen so much nighttime activity or so many parked cars, something that drives the adjacent hardware store crazy.
It's a restaurant where a grilled flat bread is a meal (try the smoked chicken), a hamburger is heaven, and a sister special-events venue across the street, the Armatage Room, serves prix-fixe dinners based on themes: Istanbul, Argentina, period Italian films.
On the weekends, it's a mostly-jazz music club that books some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities, but almost no one comes to listen. For the vast majority of people standing two or three deep around the bar and chattering in the booths and at the tables, the music is aural wallpaper.
And yet, how I love Maude. I make sure to know who's playing there, and I often end up going, usually a bit later into the evening, when some of the clamoring crowd has cleared.
A quick list of just some of the people/groups who have appeared on the small stage in recent months: Chris Thomson, Adam Linz, Dave King, James Buckley, Bryan Nichols, Jay Epstein, Anthony Cox, JT Bates, Chris Bates, Alden Ikeda, Michael Lewis, Patrick Harison, Fat Kid Wednesdays, Enormous Quartet, Martin Dosh, Dean Granros, Milo Fine, Davu Seru, the Pines, Brad Bellows, Peter Schimke, Park Evans, Volcano Insurance, Joey Van Phillips, Tim Glenn, Sean Carey, Paul Metzger.
Last night it was a group billed as the Peter Schimke Collaboration. Led by pianist, composer, and sometime singer Schimke, it included Dean Granros on electric guitar, James Buckley on acoustic bass, and Jay Epstein on drums. Accordionist Patrick Harison stopped by after an earlier gig at a church and sat in for a couple of tunes.
We had requested a table near the music and got one. Don Berryman of Jazz Police joined us, having come over from the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul, where Astral Project was playing a second night. (HH and I came from the Bloomington Center for the Arts and a Johnny Mercer tribute show; more about Astral Project and Mercer later.) We heard the whole second set. When it was over, I was completely satisfied. I would not have changed a single thing or asked for one thing more.
Here's the setlist (thanks to Jay Epstein for considerable help with this; I usually take notes during live music but this time I was too lazy):
—Monk's "Trinkle Trinkle." This group can really play Monk.
—"The Vow," an original ballad by Schimke. So beautiful.
—Django Reinhardt's "Troublant Bolero." The first piece where Harison joined in. If you think accordion is all oom-pah-pah you are sorely mistaken. When Harison improvises on his button accordion, it's transporting
—"Wrong" by Jerry Bergonzi. Complex and challenging.
—Steely Dan's "Do It Again." Schimke sang ("You go back, Jack, do it again/Wheel turning round and round"), Harison played the squeezebox.
—"Blue Sparrow" by Dean Granros.
—"Ugly Beauty" by Monk.
—Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," their closing number, a joyous, freewheeling, in-the-moment journey through a jazz standard with generous solos by everyone.
What else is there, what else could there be?
Check Maude's calendar to see what's coming up. No cover charge, no reservations needed after 10 pm. Music starts at 9 and goes until midnight, often later, as "Footprints" did last night. The band just kept playing, as if they didn't want to let go of the tune.
The only caveat: You have to be able to stand the crowd noise. If you can't, you'll get cranky and start shooshing people, who will look at you as if you're mad and then ignore you.
If you're not sure, think about this: Month after month, weekend after weekend, exceptional musicians come to Maude to play. There's something about the place. Maybe it's owner Kevin Sheehy's infectious passion and enthusiasm for the arts. (Talk to him about art or travel or a particular musician or food and he's like a pot boiling over.) Or music programmer Ms. Mysterious (she doesn't want her name in print), who knows what she likes and brings it in. Some musicians feel she's too exclusionary; I say keep up the good work, Ms. M. Maybe it's the room; comfy, cozy, well-appointed. And the full bar, and the eclectic menu, and (in clement Minnesota months) the patio. Or maybe it's all of those things. Who knows. I'll be back.
Photo of the boys in the band by Don Berryman, taken after last night's final set. L to R: Schimke, Buckley, Epstein, Granros.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Released a few months after pianist Svensson's tragic death in a scuba diving accident in June 2008, Leucocyte is e.s.t.'s only album of start-to-finish free improvisation. It was recorded in a studio in Australia while they were touring in January 2007, mixed and mastered in early 2008, and ready for commercial release when Svensson died (in other words, not patched together ghoulishly to capitalize on his death). It's a series of studio jam sessions that were later textured, distorted, manipulated, and salted with static, but some moments sound much like the music I heard Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund, and drummer Magnus Ostrom play live over the years.
Aside for the track "Leucocyte: II. Ad Interim," which is totally blank, and 20 seconds of dead air at the end of "Ajar" (silence is something e.s.t. also used on Tuesday Wonderland, Viaticum, and Good Morning Susie Soho, and I always found it more annoying than enlightening), Leucocyte has a lot of what I loved about e.s.t.: tenderness, lyricism, soaring beauty, head-banging rock-star moments, and plenty of electronic noise.
Sometimes noise meets lyricism, as at the start of the aptly-named track "Jazz," which begins with sci-fi sounds, then Svensson's piano walks in and it's pure piano trio with lots of speedy bebop flourishes (and Keith Jarrett-like vocalizations--Svensson's?). Near the end, it slows and simplifies to lingering soft notes on bass and piano.
There's a video clip on the website that features the track "Leucocyte: 1. Ab Initio" over a montage of live concert and tour footage. Turn up your computer speakers and enjoy.
Here's the news I received early this morning from B.H. Hopper Management.
Today a compilation called “e.s.t. – Retrospective – The very best of e.s.t.” (ACT) will be released worldwide. It contains the e.s.t. hit songs Dodge the Dodo, From Gagarin´s Point of View, Behind the Yashmak, Viaticum, Goldwrap and many more. Altogether 13 tracks from 7 award winning albums.
The compilation has been put together by Magnus Öström, Dan Berglund and Burkhard Hopper and in a 22-page booklet they tell the story behind each of the twelve e.s.t. albums.
It is the ideal starting point for newcomers to their music and a definitive signpost along the way for those who have already begun their journey into the world of e.s.t.
Dan and Magnus have also been busy with other projects:
Magnus Öström produced an album for his fellow countrywoman Janet Lindstroem containing a duo with former Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt.
Dan Berglund is in the middle of recording a solo-project for ACT, which will get released in January 2010 and will be supported by touring from March 2010 onwards (the first tour dates you can find on www.hoppermanagement.com <http://www.hoppermanagement.com> ). For this solo-project he has put together a quartet of great Swedish musicians: Johan Lindstroem on guitar, Martin Hederos on piano and Andreas Werliin on drums and of course himself on bass. All the songs for the new album will be original tunes. Dan is very much looking forward to seeing all of you next year at his shows again!
Nothing scheduled for the US yet.
I wrote a review of Tuesday Wonderland in April 2007 for jazzpolice.com and have just pulled it onto the blog. Find it here if you want. Once again, I bitch about the long silences. Sorry about that.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Last year, saxophonist Miguel Zenon was a winner, as were violinist Leila Josefowicz and instrument maker/composer Walter Kitundu. (Heads up: Zenon comes to the Dakota, one night only, Wednesday, Oct. 14.) In 2007, blues musician Corey Harris won, as did vocalist Dawn Upshaw. In 2006, jazz violinist Regina Carter (who just performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival as one of the All-Stars) and musician/composer John Zorn. In 2005, conductor Marin Alsop, violinmaker Joseph Curtin, and music educator Aaron Dworkin. 2004, ragtime pianist and composer Reginald Robinson. 2003, composer Osvaldo Golijov. 2002, bassist and composer Edgar Meyer. 2001, pianist Stephan Hough and composer Bright Sheng.
The 2009 fellows include a novelist, a short story writer, and a poet, a filmmaker and a photojournalist, a painter, a papermaker, and a digital artist, but no one involved with music. That hasn't happened since 2000.
Tonight jazz drummer/bandleader/genius Matt Wilson handed out his own MacArthur Grants at the Jazz Standard.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
If you want to know more about the festival, see Forrest Dylan Bryant's series at his site The Jazz Observer. He blogged during the festival from his iPhone, which boggles my mind. I took notes in my trusty Moleskine notebook, often in the dark, sometimes standing up, and deciphered them later (some on the plane on the way home). Bryant and I never met but we crossed paths several times, and we seem to be kindred spirits--we both enjoyed Buffalo Collision. We saw some of the same things but mostly different things, so if you happen to read both of us you'll get a good idea of the festival's scope and diversity.
You can also read the extensive coverage on the JazzWest website. One of their writers, Jerry Karp, also enjoyed Buffalo Collision. (Not that this is a litmus test; I'm just saying.)
On the other hand, Dave Becker of examiner.com hated both Buffalo Collision and Jason Moran's Monterey commission, "Feedback." You might want to read him, too. We don't all have to like the same things.
More writings on the festival (I'll add these as I learn about them, usually from MFJ's Tim Orr on Facebook):
—Richard Scheinin for the San Mercury News
—Josef Woodard for the Santa Barbara Independent
—Michael Katz for the International Review of Music: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
—Eric Johnson for Metro Santa Cruz
—Rick Marianetti for examiner.com. The man is a poet. Here, here, here, and here. Love that he included a picture of the Hat Man, dear Paul Aschenbrenner.
—Jeff Krow for Audiophile Audition
—Jay Goetting for the Napa Valley Register
—Jon Poses for the Columbia Daily Tribune (Missouri)
—James Adams at CityFlight.com (Oakland/San Jose/San Francisco; lots of photos)
—The JazzWest Saturday photo gallery
—The All About Jazz wrap-up
—"Entertainment Desk" (don't these people have names?) at California Chronicle
--More from Dave Becker at examiner.com
--And Brian McCoy at examiner.com
--All Music Guide's Scott Yanow (from his own site)
--And finally, one on the food (which is pretty terrific), also from examiner.com
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I'm reporting on the Monterey Jazz Festival for jazz.com, tweeting at twitter.com/bebopified (I'm mainly doing this for Howard Mandel's #jazzlives effort), and writing a festival wrap-up for jazzpolice.com when I return. (The wrap-up will feature John's pictures.) Day One at Monterey is here if not on the jazz.com home page.
And just when I think I'm working too hard, I find the Jazz Observer, a site written by jazz journalist and broadcaster Forrest Dylan Bryant, who's actually blogging from the festival and turning in great stories on the spot. I keep looking around for a guy with a laptop.
Photo: Kurt Elling on the lawn at Monterey.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
It's the first day of the Monterey Jazz Festival but the gates don't open until 6 p.m. so we have time for a few more sights. Early last week I read an article about Tor House in the Los Angeles Times and made a reservation for an 11:00 tour.
Tor House was poet Robinson Jeffers' home in Carmel (not Big Sur, as the article says). He built much of it with his own hands, using boulders gathered from the shore of Carmel Bay. I don't know much about Jeffers' poetry; his best-known poem is probably "Shine, Perishing Republic," and you can read it here. His work is thick, dark, often pessimistic and misanthropic, and when you stand in the low-ceilinged living room of his home, looking out at the ocean and Point Lobos, you wonder how anyone could be so negative with so much glory before him.
If you visit the website and look at the photos, you get the impression that Tor House is grandly situated all by itself on an isolated stretch of the California coastline. In fact, it's in a crowded neighborhood surrounded by multimillion-dollar beachfront homes (you enter from Ocean View Ave., but Scenic Drive is just on the other side). What was once a pristine view of Point Lobos has been scarred for the past 50 years by the so-called Butterfly House, which went on the market in 2007 for $19.995 million and apparently sold; it's currently undergoing renovation. Jeffers died in 1962 and watching that house go up must have made him crazy.
Tor House tours are limited to six people; as it turns out, we have the excellent docent, Sherry Shollenbarger, all to ourselves. We take our time hearing stories and poems, looking at photographs, asking questions, and just being in the rooms where Jeffers lived with his wife and muse, Una, and their twin boys.
Tor House was a lifelong project for Jeffers. He wrote in the mornings from his upstairs office, worked on the house in the afternoons. (Sherry tells us that when Jeffers wrote, he paced; when the pacing stopped, Una banged on the ceiling from below, where she was seated at her own small desk, to get him on track again.) The original house was begun in 1918 and built by a contractor; Jefferson apprenticed himself to the contractor, learned to build with stone, and added to the home over several years: a tower for Una, a dining room, a new wing. They had no central heating and used kerosene lamps; a tin tile (embossed with a lion) set into the wood ceiling above Una's piano was protection against rising heat and soot.
Tor House is managed by a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There are no buses, no T-shirts or key rings or snow globes; the only souvenirs you can purchase are books by and about Jeffers and simple notecards. Freebies include the foundation's newsletter and a teacher's guide to Jeffers' poetry published by the National Endowment for the Arts, also available online.
The house is filled with the personal belongings of Jeffers and his wife; their desks and chairs, shelves full of their books, quilted bench covers made from their old clothing (woolens ordered from the British Isles), the Celtic crosses Una loved, the unicorns people gave her. Carved into walls and lintels and doors are words and phrases they found inspiring. On the day Thomas Hardy died in 1928, Jeffers carved "Hardy" into a stone beside a door in the dining room. Seeing those shallow, uneven letters in the stone was a powerful experience. I could imagine the poet standing there, grieving and marking the stone.
We walk the garden, far more manicured now, Sherry tells us, than when the Jefferses lived there, and see the giant rock that became the cornerstone of the house (and is remembered in Jeffers' poem titled, you guessed it, "To the Rock That Will Be a Cornerstone of the House").
We climb the narrow, steep, uneven stone steps into Una's tower and look out over the ocean. (There's a second way up, an even narrower stairwell Jeffers created for his young sons. HH takes that one but it's way too claustrophobic for me. I can picture myself stuck and screaming.) Intrepid HH also climbs to the very top of the tower, even steeper steps with a chain handrail (in the Jefferses' time, we learn, they held onto a length of hemp).
You can read Jeffers' poem about his house here. Not thick, dark, or pessimistic, only slightly misanthropic ("fire and the axe are devils"), but tender, inviting, loving. Sherry read this poem aloud to us in the living room. What a pleasure.
If you enjoy visiting writers' homes, seeing where they worked and getting a feel for the environment that fed their creativity, Tor House is a worthy stop.
From there, after driving up and down Scenic Drive and marveling at the houses, we go to the nearby Carmel Mission, home of the Carmel Mission Basilica and the shrine of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784), the Majorca-born founder of the mission chain that stretched across upper California in an attempt to solidify Spain's hold on the land. Here you enter and exit through the gift shop, which is full of religious medals and pendants, statuary, jewelry, crucifixes, crosses, prints, rosaries, cards, calendars, and more. The restored church is peaceful and beautiful; founder Serra's grave is in the floor near the altar. The gardens are lovely, as is the cemetery with its simple graves ringed with abalone shells.
The mission has an active school, which was in session during our visit, and several museums, which would be a lot more interesting if the information provided was better and more complete. The Harry Downie Museum tells the story of the Mission's restoration in hard-to-read script; the Munras Family Heritage Museum displays personal items that belonged to a prominent Monterey family (hence Munras Street and Hotel Casa Munras), but with little explanation. There's a room full of elaborate priests' vestments—from when? No clue. A gallery with a large cenotaph (a tomb without a body) which I guessed (correctly) had something to do with Fra Serra, and the Convento Museum, which contains the cell in which Serra died in 1784. (The real cell?) It's the final stop on a tour that leads back to the gift shop.
Photos: Tor House viewed from Scenic Drive. Graves with abalone shells at the Carmel Mission.
1. Vijay Iyer. Say “VID-jay EYE-ur.” When Ben Ratliff writes “Presto! Here is the new great piano trio,” people notice. I haven’t seen Iyer since he was at the Walker Art Center with Rudresh Mahanthappa in 1996. Monterey may be wishing they had booked him into a larger space than the Coffee House Gallery. With Stephen Crump on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums. Hoping we’ll hear several cuts from the forthcoming Historicity. Sunday, September 20, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
2. Buffalo Collision. I’m not joking when I say that if you’re a jazz fan in Minneapolis/St. Paul and you leave town for even a few days, you will miss something you wish you had seen. As I looked ahead to Monterey, I rued missing Buffalo Collision at the Dakota this Friday and Saturday. Somehow they will play the late set there on Saturday (which ends around 1:30 a.m.) and end up in Monterey in time to play the Garden Stage at 5:30 on Sunday afternoon. Ethan Iverson on piano, Dave King on drums, Tim Berne on saxophone, Hank Roberts on cello.
3. The Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars Featuring Kenny Barron, Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, and Russell Malone. Supergroup! All four of these artists have pleased me immensely in the past—the elegant pianist Barron and adventurous violinist Carter together in Montreal, Malone in various configurations (and in conversation; the angel-faced guitar player tells wicked jokes); vocalist Kurt Elling so many times I should have Platinum Elite status. Jonathan Blake on drums, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass. Friday, 9:40 p.m., Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage; Saturday, 8:00 p.m., Dizzy’s Den.
4. Pete Seeger. Not a jazz artist but let’s all get over it. Like many jazz festivals and clubs, Monterey has broadened its scope (it has long featured blues on Saturday afternoons) and if that helps to keep the gates/doors open I’m all for it. Seeger is an icon. Earlier this week my husband and I met someone who had volunteered at the Haight-Ashbury free clinic in the 60s. He talked about the songs, the protests, the artists, the mood, and the excitement of the times as if they all happened yesterday, with special reference to and affection for Seeger. I’m not a folk fan but I’d be a fool to miss this. I’m expecting at least a mention and perhaps a tribute to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, who died on Wednesday.
5. Jason Moran & The Bandwagon Premiering Feedback. Someone (and I can’t remember who—tell me and I’ll correct this immediately) recently wrote about how rock music is finding new life in video games and why can’t jazz do the same? So, why not a video game with Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran as riff-to-the-death piano players? Maybe throw in Robert Glasper and Eldar (whom I missed seeing in Minneapolis earlier this week). Back on topic, I most recently saw Moran at the Dakota with Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland. For many in the audience, Moran stole the show. Can’t wait to hear his new commission. Thank you, Monterey, for commissioning new work by important artists. 7:00 p.m. Sunday, Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage. Moran and the Bandwagon also play at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday in the Night Club.
6. Dave Brubeck Quartet Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Time Out. Has it really been half a century since Brubeck recorded a tune in 5/4 time that is not only instantly recognizable today but still catchy, infectious, and fun? Brubeck has been part of the Monterey festival since the start. Earlier this year, health problems interrupted his touring schedule. People will rise to their feet en masse when he comes on stage on Sunday night at 8:20 p.m. (or thereabouts) in the Arena. It’s going to be a thrilling, memorable moment. I was here for Brubeck's “Cannery Row Suite” premiere in 2006 (with vocalists Kurt Elling and Roberta Gambarini) and it was unforgettable. With Randy Jones on drums, Bobby Militello on alto sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass. Go Dave!
7. Alfredo Rodriguez Trio. Quincy Jones tried and failed to get this young Cuban pianist a visa. In January 2009--earlier this year, not a typo--he defected to the US. A friend saw him at the Detroit Jazz Festival and raved about him. That’s all I know, but it’s enough to put me in the bleachers at the Garden Stage on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.
8. Dee Dee Bridgewater. The lovely, endlessly creative and surprising Dee Dee! Does she still shave her head? Is she still singing Malian music? She’s coming to Minneapolis next year to sing with the Minnesota Orchestra. Does she have another new project for Monterey or will she draw from her extensive and colorful repertoire of French songs, Kurt Weill tunes, straight-ahead, Ella, Ellington, etc.? Not a clue. Saturday night, 9:20 p.m., Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage; Saturday night, 11:30 p.m., Dizzy’s Den.
9. Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Quartet. I’ve seen flutist/saxophonist Tabackin at the Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul but never with his wife, pianist/bandleader/composer/arranger/NEA jazz master Akiyoshi. Must stop by the Night Club on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. Ack! Same time as Jason Moran's premiere in the Arena! Sometime around 6:30 I'll start gnashing my teeth and wailing.
10. The food, the ambience, the characters. (a) Monterey has good fair food—multi-ethnic, tasty, substantial, prepared in grills and ovens that send clouds of fragrant smoke into the air. This year there’s a salad bar. Heirloom tomatoes? (b) The ambience is laid-back, California-style party. No passing bodies over mosh pits, no fisticuffs or flying F-bombs. It’s genial and courteous, which is not to say it’s fuddy-duddy or boring, just that this is one place where civility apparently still exists and the excitement happens on stage. (c) Hoping the Hat Man (lobster hat, jailbird hat) is still at the Arena gates and Dee Dee Rainbow is feeling well enough to attend this year. She was absent last year and it was a Very Big Deal.
I’m at 10 (and I even fudged 10 a bit) so must quit, but not without mentioning Joe Lovano and Conrad Herwig, Randy Brecker, John Scofield, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the mind-blowing trio of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White (awesome last week at the Dakota in Minneapolis), Esperanza Spalding, the John Patitucci Trio with Lovano and Brian Blade, and DJ Logic, all of whom will be here in the balmy ocean breezes and cool evening mists of Monterey at a jazz festival that has continued without interruption for 52 consecutive years. Times are tough so the festival has taken the unusual step of offering single-show arena tickets for sale; usually you have to buy a package to get a reserved seat in the Arena, where the biggest names perform. Please, people, come.
This year I'll be reporting on the festival for jazz.com and writing a wrap-up for jazzpolice.com when I return home. So you can check those sites over the weekend and into next week if you want to know more.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
A day that takes its sweet time passing.
Breakfast and coffee at the reliable Parker-Lusseau, where it's too early to eat cake with ladyfingers and lemon custard wrapped in rose-tinted white chocolate.
Hwy 1 to Big Sur. A wall of fog stretches across the Pacific. As it nears the land, it becomes a white cloud that obscures mountains, homes, trees.
To the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant for chocolate chip cookies. The cookbook includes profiles of the owners (originally from LA), people who work there, and suppliers (beekeepers, organic farmers, growers of microgreens). I think of Werner Herzog's film Encounters at the End of the World, in which Herzog goes to Antarctica to learn about the people who live there.
To Ventana for the legendary view from the restaurant, which we find is closed for remodeling. We honestly don't care. The view from a bench below the restaurant is just fine.
To Pfeiffer Beach, which our indispensable Insiders' Guide says is accessible via a poorly-marked road. Try unmarked, two-mile, one-lane that winds through woods and past turnoffs marked PRIVATE and KEEP OUT and BEWARE OF DOG. The beach is glorious. The sand is purple. Not deep purple, but the top edges have a purple tinge. This is the beach featured in the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie The Sandpiper.
One end is all rocks and we climb them. Soon I'm sitting on a large rock that slants sharply down, watching the waves crash below. If I lean too far, I'll die.
Drinks in Carmel at a working-class bar where the bartender's second job is selling laser sights to the military. He gives us a catalog. A contractor in for a beer says times are tough--the building of spec houses has slowed to a crawl. Later we'll pass a realtor's office with an ad in the window for a $13 million Pebble Beach home.
To the tapas restaurant Mundaka with friends we met last year at the jazz festival. Kevin Smith is a writer and student of Tai Chi; his partner Jeffrey Mallory works with computers. Together they care for artist Emile Norman. They have concert tickets for 8 or we might still be talking, drinking tempranillo, eating squash blossoms in caramel sauce.
To Carmel's public beach for the final fading moments of the sunset. How do people with homes on the ocean get anything done? Don't they want to look out the window every second?
A movie back in Monterey. In this early-to-bed town, we have the theater to ourselves.
Photos: Fog; bakery; Liz and Dick on the beach; view from a rock
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
So we got up late and went for breakfast at Kathy’s on Cass St. Avocado and mushroom omelet, pancakes, potatoes. The sort of breakfast that makes you want to take a nap, except we had just gotten up. We pored over today’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, an incredible shrinking newspaper (small trim size, small page count). Found many of the comics I like but no “Mark Trail.” Wondering WHAT Rusty is up to.
From there, the 17 Mile Drive. We’ve done this before but what's wrong with repeating a leisurely tour through the Del Monte woods with palatial estates on your left, the Pacific on your right, and golfers in the road? It’s mostly about doing nothing—drive a bit, get out of the car, walk on the path, listen to the waves, sit on a bench, listen to the waves, look through your binoculars at what you think might be seals but turn out to be weeds, watch a large bird with a long orange beak and big pink feet hop over rocks in search of food, try to stay ahead of the tour buses.
We couldn’t entirely avoid one, a blue Cardiff Tours behemoth that raised and lowered its air suspension (BEEP BEEP BEEP) to let people on and off. We noticed one family in particular and I wish I had snapped a stealth picture. Jovial dad, patient mom, two sullen teenage girls, one expressionless, the other with her legs covered in tattoos, wearing a hoodie with kitten ears, angrily smoking a cigarette. You could tell the parents were trying but the girls were in hell.
We spent a lot of time admiring the Lone Cypress, the official trademarked symbol of the Pebble Beach Corporation. You can walk down several steps to a deckish landing with benches and sit there if you want, watching groups of people come down the stairs and pose for pictures in front of the famous tree. A group of Japanese tourists posed in front of the wrong tree. We thought about telling them but didn’t.
Back in Monterey in time for the weekly Farmers' Market on Alvarado St. Fresh Cali produce, jewelry made from rocks, candles, musicians, babies, street food. Lots of street food. Lebanese pockets stuffed with potatoes and spices so hot they make your whole head burn. Tamales. Gyros. BBQ. We sat at a picnic table eating chicken with our fingers as the street grew dark and the people running the booth doused the coals.
Photos: John's Bonsai Lone Cypress. Farmers' Market crowd, musicians, orchids.
Changes to Swanton’s this year include more furniture inside, more jams (which you can sample by spooning them onto animal crackers), and a young plaid-shirted employee who claims to be the biggest Vikings fan born in L.A. He asked if we had seen the day’s game. We had not. We were on a plane, squashed like sorry sardines among the other pleated, folded, pressed and compressed passengers on the full flight.
At the hotel we talked first to the check-in person and second to the concierge. A concierge is someone you want to know and treat with utmost respect. The one at the Hyatt Monterey has been here for 20 years. So you can say to her such vague, nonspecific, beetle-brained things as “I picked up a card at a small Italian restaurant in Pacific Grove last year but left it on my desk at home” and she’ll say “Oh, you mean Joe Rombi’s, would you like me to make a reservation for you?” Crab cake followed by the Sunday spaghetti-and-meatballs special, with meatballs the size of cannonballs, and a nice chianti.
On Monday we drove to Moss Landing, which (according to the Insiders’ Guide to the Monterey Peninsula, an extremely detailed and useful book) is supposed to have a lot of antique stores. Maybe it used to but it doesn’t anymore. The recession seems to have kneecapped this little town on the shore of Monterey Bay. We were the only people in the shops we visited and the café where we stopped for liquid refreshment.
Moss Landing is, as of 2008, the new home of the Shakespeare Society of America, where we spent an hour or so talking with CEO Terry Taylor and where HH got his picture taken in two Your-Head-Here life-size cut-outs, one a knight and one a king. (See above for the king; the knight's on fb.) Taylor’s background includes a passion for the Bard, a degree from Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and a career in consulting and cell phone sales. The Shakespeare Society building is full of prints, paintings, costumes, busts, scripts, books, and models of the Globe Theater. It is a charming, strange, and fascinating find in this town of 300 people.
Taylor pointed us up Hwy 1 to a dock that was installed for visitors in 2008 but was almost immediately taken over by sea lions. Posted signs warn against trying to rescue any and explain that overpopulation has led to disease and starvation. I’m not an expert at estimating the size of crowds but am guessing the dock held more than 1,000 sea lions. They were packed tighter than we were on our flight from Minneapolis. When the wind shifted, they smelled very bad. Make that very, very, very, very bad.
Back in Monterey, we walked the Monterey Recreational Trail from Fisherman’s Wharf along the ocean to the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove and back again. Then dinner at the Monterey Fish House, another tip from Her Holiness the Concierge. Oysters on the half shell, crab ravioli, grilled artichoke, calamari Sicilian (in red sauce with calamata olives). Noisy, crazy, packed, delicious.
We sat at the bar. The man seated to our right was a physician who had worked at the free clinic in Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s, when patients included people like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. He urged us to spend at least one day in Big Sur, something we plan to do anyway, and offered specific suggestions: Buy chocolate-chip cookies from the Big Sur Bakery. Sit on the deck at the Ventana Inn. And walk barefoot along Pfeiffer Beach where, he promised, the surf sounds like jazz.
More photos--sea lions, houses in Pacific Grove, whatever--may come later once HH downloads his camera card.