Monday, October 13, 2008

Culture is Exhausting There’s so much going on in the Bay Area that I sometimes finish a weekend more exhausted than when I started.

On Saturday, I attended the 20th anniversary benefit luncheon for the Kidney Foundation of Northern California. This is one of the premier author events in the country as it showcases top authors. They get to stand in the front of a huge ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco and say whatever they want to. Last year, Michael Chabon used his 15 minutes to talk about the promise of Barack Obama, then a long shot for the presidency. A lot of people were annoyed that Chabon injected politics into the afternoon, but the writer clearly felt so passionately about Obama that he could not help himself.

There weren’t any fiery politics this time. The authors were Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the NBC doctor and former Marin County resident, Tobias Wolf, Curtis Sittenfeld, Andre Dubus III, Diane Johnson, and Jacques Pepin, The emcees were Michael Krasny and Amy Tan, who reported there were 1100 attendees. Twenty years ago, only 400 people came to the benefit. The lunch raised about $500,000.

Then I skipped over to Geary Street to see artist Judith Belzer's show at the new gallery Room for Painting, Room for Paper. Judith has been painting extreme close-ups of trees, and her work appears both detailed and abstract. They are the kind of paintings one could stare at for hours. The Chronicle profiled Belzer this morning. She is married to Michael Pollan and admits it can be tough to be in his shadow. "I'm really proud of hime and I think he does wonderful work," saids Belzer. "I don't really like being 'Mrs. Michael' that much .... But I pretty much just do my work and try to keep my head down and not get bothered by that."

On Sunday, I went to the Mill Valley Film Festival to see The Betrayal, a new documentary film by Ellen Kuras. The film focuses on the impact of the secret US air war in Laos. About 23 years ago Kuras started filming a Laotian family in Rochester, New York. She moved to New York City and decided she wanted to learn Lao so she could communicate with her subjects. She started taking lessons from a young Lao man named Thavisouk Phrasavath, and Kuras soon found herself drawn into the drama of Thavi’s family’s life. Kuras started to film them and along the way Thavi became assistant director. Together they have made a powerful film that explores how violence shatters families and cultures and ripples down through generations. Betrayal will have its theatrical release in New York on Nov. 21. Kuras has also worked as a cinematographer on numerous films, including the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and her images of Laos are stunning. It is definitely worth seeing.

Then on Sunday night, my family and I caught the closing performance of Yellow Jackets, the Berkeley Rep play about Berkeley High in the 1990s. The play focuses on the school newspaper and the question of whether one of its articles was racist in tone. It was written by Itmar Moses, a former Berkeley High student. All I can say is the more things change, the more they stay the same.

These were the things I wanted to do, but did not have the energy to do:

Attend the Lit Crawl in the Mission on Saturday night and the after party. (I was a featured author, for God’s sake, and you would think I could stay up late enough for the party. But no, I was snug in my bed by 11)

Go hear Diane Johnson at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore on College. I have met Diane before and she is a friend’s relative, so I wanted to see her in this intimate setting. Besides, I love her books and I have heard Lulu in Marrakesh is very good. One of my favorite of Johnson’s books in Persian Nights, about Iran. Many people dismiss her French trilogy as lightweight, but Johnson has the ability to combine politics, intrigue and literary fiction as well.

What I hope to do tonight: Go hear author Ted Conover talk about immersion reporting. I have read almost every one of Conover’s books, starting before he was a superstar. He took an unusual career path by remaining outside the mainstream of journalism and jumping right into books. My favorite was Coyotes, which documented the world of illegal aliens. I liked Newjack, a chronicle of his year as a prison guard at Sing Sing, as well.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

This comment is a bit belated, but I was just catching up on your blog, and the list of event that made up your weekend reminded me of something my father said when I moved back from New York. My ex, Florence, had stayed there, and my father said, "On any given night in New York, there are maybe 100 amazing events taking place, and you can only go to one of them. By living in California, you are only missing 1% more than Florence is missing living in New York." Now that I am parenting two small children, I have to think the same thing about all the wonderful events in the Bay Area--I am missing 1% more than someone hitting as much as one person can. Still, I am grateful that I can sit in my own living room tonight and get my own vicarious piece of the action through your good writing. Thank you!