Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Fuelish Birthday

My birthday has become an occasion for me to sample new restaurants. Of course so is every other day, but at least on my birthday I have company. Since we lived in Japan in the 80s, I've celebrated my birthday with Dave and Patty Samuel. A decade earlier, I first had birthday dinner at a Swiss restaurant in Vancouver with fellow Vancouver Community College teacher Frank Cosco, and frequently since then with his wife Kazu as well. Fumiyo was her usual trepidacious self about going to restaurants, the looking at the menu online didn't fill her with much enthusiasm.
She ended up ordering soup and the same shrimp salad that I ordered as a starter. I seem to have enjoyed my salad more than she did. and then she complained that the soup was too salty.
I had originally planned to go to another new Vancouver restaurant, called Gastropod, which is next door. The review in the Georgia Straight had raved about its fine tuna. However the tuna was no longer on the online menu. Gastropod was rated the 2nd best new restaurant in town, Fuel was #1 and its online menu seemed like things I'd enjoy. Letters to the review sites raved about its unbelievable chicken and pork dishes. I was going to go with the chicken on the menu, and Patty thought she'd try the chicken special that day. At the last minute, I decided to go with the pork, as the chicken was more dark meat than I care for. The server complimented me on the choice of the pork. It reminded me of something I ate as a kid. Odd, as I didn't start eating pork until I moved to Japan when I was 20. My parents had pineappled ham for Easter, and I occasionally ate bacon (as in BLTs) but no pork as such. Fuel's pork was indeed delicious as was its sauce. Much as I love spinache, there was actually too much of this delicious vegetable compared to the pork.

Kazu ate the veal, which she enjoyed. Her husband Frank had a lemony risotto that I found fabulous, but couldn't tempt Fumiyo to taste, despite her being the designated rice eater in the Ishikawa house.

We had assorted wines with our meals. I had a couple glasses of Sumac Stellers sparkling wine with the salad, a glass of Calina which didnt go as well as expected with the pork. My companions drank other things.

As far as my meal went, it was okay, but I found there was too much meat and not enough vegetable...the sauce was rich and pungent on the duck and chicken...if that was duck...I think it was. And I couldn't tell what sort of little sliced things were tucked under the meat, perhaps they were a vegetable...maybe a chestnut? But the dessert was superb, and so was the wine, I'll drink that Pfaffenheim gew├╝rztraminer again.
Patty Holmes
For desert, I had an amazing pineapple dish that went comfortably with a glass of Inniskil Icewine. I don't know if Fuel rates being called the best new restaurant in Vancouver, but everything I ate was good. When the tuna comes back to the Gastropod menu, I'll try its neighbour.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Don Ho dies. Dreams bubble on.

I spent the summer of 1967 travelling accross Canada, starting with Expo 67 in Montreal and drifting west. While visiting relatives in Regina, I had the following dream.

"University of Hawaii" I told my mother when she inquired where I was planning to go to school. She continued dusting the coffee table.
Waving to the white/yellow curtains that flopped over the kitchen window (open:hot). Fell clumsily into my green/gold Mustang with the white landau top and drove out of the garage.
L, a girl from my high school, zipped up Woodman (Red Light:Go) in her Chevy/Ford coup. Her scarf, of 1950 white flowers on a yellow paisely background, fluttered at the traffic.
Backed lime/gold into Woodman. "Good buy" I sped.
"Hawaii you" breezed L.
"U" I answered noddingly.
Time past. Woodman wasn't. KFWB still swung. KHJ still stung. Billy Joe ate his hominies quietly on the back speakers.
Seven o'clock. Dim dark sun hid behind the music. Dirty dusty mountainous overpopulated California thinned out. Tropical plants. Green.
L swerved her red comfortable Chevy/Ford friendily (top down) perpendicular to my lime/gold. Dull screech. The merrygoround moaned empirically.(well?)
"There ain't no Hawaii University" she mocked in a grinnish ferncovered smile.
"That's where I'm goin---can't turn back now, almost there" said I, flashing a lime/gold deterrent. I noticed her sootcase on the back seat purring. Little sticker:
She vanished mockingly. Shoved it into 3rd. Grabbed the thinning highway. Concrete asphalt dirt wet tropical dirt road. Dark tropical dark.


Where was KRLA?
Dylan fizzed from the back speakers. Wasn't that a Hawaiian guitar?
..............6:00 Radio Hawaii from atop Diamond Head in lovely Honolulu. Time to get up........
whogetsupatsixoclockonsundaymorning WHAT?
..............downtown Honolulu looking bright as the morning star..........
HAWAII I DID IT I'M IN HAWAII's Don Ho to sing............
Familiar driveway. It's the H's white house/garage. Their's there old gold Ramblobile Coop. I pulled the sleepy lime/gold into there driveway. Abounding over ferns, I rubber the sleep from my I's. Breaking through the Door I seeked out T's room.
"I, baby, wusha doing here at sis a clock in the mornun!" drawled Mr. H.
"Well, sire, I've just discovered that I'm in Hawaii!"
"YOU'RE NUTS" he bellowed belicosely. The audacity of disturbing these nice people on Sunday morning.
T yawned into the room. "Hi I, watya doin hear?"
"I'm in Hawaii! I'm in Hawaii!" I smiled.
"Hello copper. Crazy kid here think's he's in Hawaii."
"No sir, I am. I am. The radio. Come listen to radio HONOLULU
They followed me wearily to the lime/gold. The sun peeked over the house.
............good morning to Los Angeles......6:00 Sunday morning with the Beatles.....
"Get outta hear ya crazy kid" they growled.
As I wept on the turning indicator the radio seemed to fade and fuzz with static. Very faintly in the background, I heard the melodic strumming of Hawaiian guitars.

transcribed as faithfully as possible from August, 1967

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fast Food Nation in 3 Media

A couple days ago, I finished this book. It starts out with some fine writing. Schlosser started out writing an article for Rolling Stone and it starts with enough hooks to keep you turning the magazine pages, and even pick up the next issue. It does tend to bog down when he expanded it to book length, but still a book well worth reading if you don't already know more than you care to about how your hamburgers are made. Growing up in Southern California around the time the book's action begins there, where fast food restaurants first begin to blight the landscape, I can remember the novelty of Macdonalds when it came to Sherman Oaks, and how it was avoided by my family and our friends because we valued Good hamburgers, then available in great variety throughout LA. I did like the Bob's Big Boy but I don't recall it being franchised at that time (Kennedy administration). Of course, if Bobs made its hamburgers the way they are described in this book and I was aware of that, I probably would have remained a vegetarian (we started eating meat in 62 when I was 11). Interesting parallel stories of Walt Disney and Macdonalds' Kroc. But that was a far more innocent world. As the book points out, fast food has altered the American (etc) landscape, and increasingly, the American waistline so profoundly it's as if Disneyland had taken over the world and everything was now a Disney ride. A ride with really wide seats.
When I mentioned I was reading this book over dinner at Zen last week with Dino and Krista, they told me it was a flick. At first I thought they were talking about Supersize It, which had been shown on CBC recently. No, they meant Fast Food Nation-The Flick. So yesterday, after finishing the book, I rented the DVD.
Notice the title of this post is 3 media. Seeing the flick and watching all the extra material on DVD, such as watching the flick for the second time with Schlosser and the filmaker Linklater commenting is a totally different media experience. In the first, I got right into the story, which Schlosser wisely changed from non-fiction to narrative. Smuggling Mexicans into the US to work at the hamburger plant reminded me of Babel (excellent flick I saw recently, particularly the scenes shot in Tokyo where I'll be filming in a few monthes), A Day Without a Mexican (whose writer appears as a character in FFN) and from a couple of decades ago, El Norte. In the DVD, the characters and filmakers talk about how Americans are unaware of the plight of the Mexican illegal worker, but it ain't for lack of flicks about the subject.
It was interesting to see scenes in the story which come directly out of the non-fiction work. I see this as a very inspiring template for future conversions of data to story. On the PBS show Novel Reflections on the tube last night, Steinbeck, in a segment about his writing of Grapes of Wrath, is reported to have felt "fiction is an instrument for bringing the news to people." The screenplay for FFN owes and acknowledges its debt to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Child labour laws ower their existance to Dickens' novels. There are more examples, but not enough.
When I saw Farenheit 911, I thought that was the future of political film makings. Now I think, although FFN wasn't nearly as good, because it is Story rather than Tome, it has a better chance of influencing people than Moore (though Moore is much funnier AND angrier).
The DVD also features the pointed animation of The Meatrix, and another clip called The Backwards Hamburger. On Air America yesterday, someone was talking about how cops never eat in fast food restaurants, cuz they know what the meals really consist of. Will watching this flick,and the DVD extras bring about a change in peoples' eating habits? The flick's main character, an executive of the hamburger chain "Mickeys," chows down on his company's burger even though he knows its full of cow feces. As the Kris Kristofferson character says, the machine has taken over America. But by and large, most Americans don't mind. So many people can't afford to eat anything else (or so they've been led to believe- great scene in the flick where the Arquette character microwaves scrambled eggs in a package, instead of actually scrambling real eggs). Now with corn being diverted into ethanol production, tortillas are becomming less affordable in Mexico, forcing more people to make the arduous journey to the US to work in its meat factories. A viscious circle not unlike global warming, which all those farting and belching cows only worsen.
Even before they began making albums, the Firesign Theatre spoke of the War with the Cows in one of their early plays. On one of their radio shows, they speculated that the reason cows have bloodshot eyes is because they know their fate. When Fumiyo was in India 8 years ago, she noticed how contented the cows were there, knowing that no harm would come to them. We don't HAVE to be a fast food nation. Just as I saw the fast food industry in its infancy in LA in my childhood, I may see it fade in my old age. Or not. But the vegetarianism of my first 11 years is looking increasingly appealing to me now.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


On Wednesday of this week (today being Sunday) I saw the best art show I've ever seen in this city. Of course, this is Vancouver, and the beauty tends to be outdoors in mountains and the ocean, not indoors in galleries here. Nonetheless, I've never been more impressed by any show I've seen in this city in more than 30 years of visiting its galleries than the photography of Fred Herzog, currently on exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Before seeing Fred's photos, I visited the exhibition on the first floor, called Acting the Part. Staged photography. I'd seen a part of this show at the National Gallery in Ottawa in September. Then as now, what impressed me most was the film made of Las Maninas, called "89 seconds in Alcazar, 2004" the wondrous Velasquez painting in the Prado which was the highlight of my last trip to Europe. The film follows the actors (people, a dog) getting into position as if they were the King of Spain and his courtiers posing for Velasquez. Largely silent, except for the odd whisper, rustling of material and people moving around. I wondered what the film would mean to someone who'd never seen the painting. Probably not much.
There were a lot more staged photos in this show than its preview at the National Gallery. The 3D daguerrotypes from the 19th century I found particularly interesting. Warren Thompson's self portraits as an arab, a hunter and a thinker from 1855, the year my grandfather was born, flashed me back to his era, so long before the motion picture came into being. The 4-photo episode Little Red Riding Hood reminded me of little photo stories Fumiyo and I used to do in the 70s. Mrs. Turtledove's new French cook, from 1902, retains its hilarity over the generations.
The top floor has some abstract work by B.C. Binning. I assume BC doesnt stand for British Columbia. Colours screaming, shapes babbling like Alice in Wonderlands' Talking Cards. I exited quickly, downstairs into the Herzog show.
My first impression: what weird colours! He was shooting Kodachrome slides, not the usual black and white of art photography of the era. I wondered if Kodak hadn't perfected the film back in the 50s when Herzog started shooting. Reminded me of the images my parents took in that era with their movie camera- saturated colours that seem not of this earth, not lit by our sun. I'm not sure if I got used to the colours or the film got better in the 60s and 70s. Sometimes I'm not sure if the colours I'm looking at are a result of the film or the natural lighting of that distant era. There's a shot of two boys wearing red cowboy hats- must be moving cows on a different planet. A photo of an ocean liner called Princess Patricia 1967 evoked that scene in Fellini's Amacord where the townspeople go to see the visiting ship. Flaneur Granville 1960 is my fave. And then another shot is. And then another. It's like going to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. The word "favourite" no longer applies. The Marine Bldg? Best use of fog I've ever seen. And unlike Acting the Part, the fog wasnt produced just for the shot. The family on lawn, 1959 with the curious cat looking on is another I can strongly relate it. I'm continually amazed at his composition, yet none of this is staged. OK, these are chosen from 80,000 pix he's taken walking around Vancouver for more than half a century so of course we're only seeing the good ones. One shot of the orange facade of a downtown building and the orange front of an oncoming train against washed out, almost colourless scenery: CPR tracks 1971. The orange draws you in, as if it were an actual orange hovering before you as you starved. A mannekin wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and a hat and shades in a store window from 2006 shows that Herzog still has the eye. Maybe that's my favourite.
The National Film Board of Canada used to make great flicks. Particularly shorts. I'd heard of the flick Manufactured Landscapes, so I rented it last night. It went well with the Herzog show, as its opposite. The flicks starts with long, long shots inside and outside Chinese factories. Almost as boring to look at as it must be to work there. The flick follows a "famous" (why?) photographer, mostly in China, capturing landscapes altered by our hunger for energy and newness. Lots of mines, containers, ships being deconstructed in India, but mostly China. The bonus tracks to the DVD were much more enjoyable. No wonder I hadn't heard of anything or seen anything by our film board in decades. If this is the best they can do now, maybe they should take up something else instead of film making. Plumbing perhaps?