Sometimes it’s good to get out of the Valley and see a thing or two. My Mom Muriel Ellis decided to go to a writer’s conference at the Shattuck Hotel in Berkeley. I suggested that she bring me along for moral support (which she really didn’t need) and she said yes. Berkeley is always reinventing itself and yet somehow stays the same. The food. First morsel devoured was a two-scoop gelato one scoop “cream of cardamom” the other “rose” - heaven. Next up a “bubble tea” which for the uninitiated is an ice tea-like concoction in various flavors (I choose lavender milk tea). The kicker with bubble tea is that it has these large tapioca “pearls” at the bottom of the cup that you suck up with a huge straw and they are oddly dark brown. The texture-weirdness factor for an American palate is high with these rubbery brown balls bouncing off my teeth and tongue it is was hard to decide whether I was having an unusual sensual experience or to go barf either way it was kind of thrilling. Mid-afternoon it was time for a street crepe from “Crepes A Go Go.” I had mine straight up with butter, lemon and white granulated sugar. Walking down the street crepe in hand and butter dripping down my chin I was happy. I met my friend Susan for dinner and we queued up at Kirala near the Berkeley Bowl for Sushi. I had my favorite Churasi, which is raw fish, draped over a bowl of sushi rice without the trouble of forming it into little rolls. Accompanying this was a glass of local Takara Saki called Nigori which is very cold, unfiltered and great with fish. Final food entry was a stop at Brennan’s at the foot of University Ave. where Mom had an Irish coffee and we both tucked into home-style macaroni with all the crusty cheesy topping you may remember from when mom cooked in an oven instead of a microwave. Brennan’s was my every day lunch stop when I worked for the East Bay Express newspaper. Soup of the day, a French roll with butter and a cup of coffee sustained me. The working class crowd bar always lulled me in the middle of my working girl busy day.
But, this trip was not all about food. On Sunday the town conveniently scheduled a big block party with Shattuck Avenue shut off to all but bike, skateboard and pedestrian traffic for many blocks. It reminded me of that song by Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street” because people sure were. Up at Shattuck and Center St. near the BART station was a terrific Salsa Band called “Orquesta La Moderna Tradicion”. The really, really good Salsa dancers were there mixed in with the amateurs. It was striking how joyful everyone looked- old, young, professional, awkward. Two very young men danced together clearly enchanted with each other and breaking some really cool Latin moves. A forty something man danced with a young teen girl who was probably his daughter (they looked alike). She in her prime was dancing beautifully with the mysterious Rumba hips most can never achieve. Her “Dad” clearly knew all the moves and he pushed her through them without actually dancing too much (tired Dad) to set her off. They danced every dance. A suave guy in his thirties really cut the rug with his smooth moves, perhaps a Salsa instructor? Then there were the inept but enthusiastic moving very fast in no discernable pattern and having a ball nonetheless. Right next to the dancers “Games of Berkeley” had set up many tables with the board games that they sell outside their store and many were sitting around the tables completely absorbed- also all ages including many nerds and bless them for playing board games with gusto in our electronic world. Salsa dancers tangled up with board games players really how Berkeley can you be? Down the road in a bar converted from a music store called “Tupper and Reed” there was a really good jazz band on the sidewalk. It was all classic old guys with one young keyboarder. I liked them so much I went into the bar to ask the bartender who they were. I found out they play there every Thursday Night and their name is “Right on Time” which the bartender assured me they usually aren’t. Nice touch. Google them.
Anyway I liked “Right on Time” so much that I bought a glass of really good white wine from the bar and sat and listened while reading a book on Rudolph Nureyev that I had just purchased at Pegasus Books down the block. Good wine, good music, good book. Heaven. Half Price Books is also downtown. Both of these stores are stuffed with really great stuff and great prices. Another find was an art book on street art by Bansky called “Wall and Piece”. While some of his stuff is a little too bracing for me his wit and humor allied with his ability to actually draw won me over (Google him). Down the block there was a DJ blasting oldies including such favorites as the “Name Game” (Banana Fanna and a Foe) and “These Boots are Made for Walking” by Nancy Sinatra. Further down people were energetically doing “Zoomba” a dance based exercise routine; looking good and getting sweaty. It was a hot day.
Most unusual sighting goes to a pop-up business housed in a dusty storefront. What caught my attention were dozens of small very realistic statues of people and animals in the store window. They were crudely arranged but the spontaneous poses of these tiny lives was very charming. I entered the store to ask about them. The guy there told me he had written a special computer program to make 3D statues. He had a booth in the store front mounted with one hundred or more digital cameras. He told me that you enter the booth and take any pose and snap! You get captured. He takes the digital record of you to an undisclosed location and with 3-D computer equipment recreates a tiny you complete with the color clothes (or fur in the case of pets) you are wearing. I considered having my mom and I 3-D’d as a memento and will probably regret not having done it but the price was steep starting at $100. Things like this are why it is good to get out of dodge every once in awhile. It gave me some new things to think about for sure.