Monday, October 31, 2005

Do they eat and drink better in Belgium?

I thought we were going to Oasis, the pub whose scampi I'd dropped at the Taste of the City a few weeks back. Instead, Frank took me to a new place near where he works, (a great part of downtown near the city's luminous library and several great bookstores) an amazing Belgian bar called Chambar. Although food service didn't start til 5:30, they allowed us in and let us sit in the sofa-strewn "living room" type area. All the seats in this massive place were reserved.
I ordered a strange beverage called Tin Tin and the Nashi Pear, described in the drinks menu as "Vanilla infused sake with fresh pear nectar and vodka, finished with caramel liquer and a sliver of pear." Fumiyo's home town Kamagaya, where we lived for a decade, calls itself the pear (The Japanese pear variant called Nashi) capitol of Japan, and produced pear wine, pear brandy and assorted pear foodstuffs. I thought I knew Nashi. But the drink was.......strange? Frank ordered a Palm beer from the beer menu. Oh, they have a beer menu, I discover after ordering the pear oddity. Not just a beer menu, a Belgian beer menu, far vaster than Stella's micro-collection. Wish I'd known before I'd order the pear thingie. Well, it was finished quickly and I promptly ordered a Bandisthe Blueberry Beer by Crannog Brewery. A draught. The pear was merely odd. The blueberry was undrinkable. The restaurant was filling up. Frank ordered a Nostradamous, which he described as tasting like a meal. I had a sip- yes, a very hearty vegetarian meal. Stil in search of something drinkable, I ordered a Tripel Karmelite. Ah! This is the kind of great beer I remember from my brief sojourn in Brussells 25 years ago. It was full of subtlety, a virtual Magritte of unexpected realities. So, I don't have to go to Belgium to drink its great beers after all. I am relieved. We order some food.
Frank was happy with his risotto, with shrimp. My Thon au Safran (described in the menu as: lime and panko seared albacore tuna & crab stuffed pastry shell. Candied ginger saffron, citus cream) deserved to be on the C restaurant menu. Yes, it's that good. Do they have food that good in Belgium? Anywhere?
Crab/tuna do not go with rich Belgian beers, so I ordered a glass of wine, pronto. And pronto, a glass of chardonnay appears. Now this is a large restaurant/bar that is packed with people. It's hard to get prompt service in a small, empty place but this was phenomenal. The COLD wine was a perfect complement for the tuna.
After dinner, I had a Chambar Coffee- Chambord, cinnamon and creme de cacao. Perfect ending to a splendid meal. Actually, it wasn't a meal so much as a visit to an enchanting bar with a bit of food to go with the booze- just the bill was restaurantesque. But cheaper than going to Belgium. And I doubt they do anything better with tuna there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rosa Parks Comes To Tokyo, almost

Bit was really looking forward to her trip to Japan in a few days. It would be her first time back there as an adult, and by herself, to visit friends and look into employment options in the country she'd spent her first decade, where she was known as "Beeto-chan" to one and all.
One thing that worried her was being annoyed by the legions of horny Japanese men called "chikan" who molest women on crowded trains. She hadn't experienced this as a 9-year old but now at 19, she wondered what to do if it happened to her.
Fumiyo and I reminded her she'd never taken any shit from anyone in Canada, why would she start on a Tokyo subway? She couldn't imagine any woman putting up with it on Vancouver's Skytrain or buses. Why did Japanese women put up with it, to the extent that they did? We remembered signs on subways and trains warning against chikan. Authority figures are ubiquitous and deviant behaviour gets little tolerance.
Bit finally decided she'd be more than able to handle anyone who might annoy her, on a crowded train or anwhere else. To get her muscles ready, she suggested we go out and play catch in a park accross the street. Something I had to drag her outside to do in the grassless parks near our house in Japan just to get some exercise, but something we hadn't done in verdant Vancouver in many years. She threw the ball hard, as if to make up for lost muscle-time. She could be the next Satchell Paige. She could become the Japanese-Canadian Rosa Parks. Parks better than this one would be named after her.
We finished playing catch and went back to the house.
Two days later, Bit drove to Seattle with her friend Kim. Bit wanted to bring gifts for her friends in Japan, and the shopping was much better down there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Happy 27th Birthday, Monique

Monique "Bit" Ishikawa's friends and family gather at her favourite Japanese restaurant, Zen, in West Vancouver, to celebrate her 27th birthday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How good can food get?

Whatever they eat in heaven, it's not as good as the scallops at C restaurant. How good can food get? I was about to find out.
Everyone I knew or had read who had been to C had raved about the place and wondered why this fish-loving feline hadn't been there. I wondered too. Then Fumiyo's old friend and fellow sea-food fancier Bo came to visit and so to C we went, singing shanties, carrying umbrellas.
It's like a theatre of food. The riesling the server reccommends to go with the appetizers is splendid with the seaweed bread (yes it sounds terrible, but it's terrific). The problem, and this is true of most restaurants, is that the wine is served long before the appetizers arrive, which means it isn't at its coldest and best when it's most needed. This should be a capital crime.
I discover weathervane is a kind of scallop so you get 2 kinds of scallops to compare. It's served with Jerusalem artichoke. Does eating it bring on the appocalypse? I'll soon find out.
The architecture reminds me of the Scandinavian Pavillion at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. A Kennedy era aesthetic. You want to peel a plank off the wall and go skiing, while singing Norwegian Wood.
The appetizers arrive in a box that also suggests World's Fair bravado from the Scandinavian Crafsmen's Guild, or perhaps something Houdini would have invented. It contains some sort of lox (I'm starting to drown in Scandinavian metaphors here) that is frankly too fishy without COLD white wine. I await a fresh glass of a more appropriate temperature. Fumiyo had ordered sablefish as an entree as well as for an appetizer. I've had sablefish before but don't know it well enough to recognize good or bad sablefish. The sablefish appetizer was odd. The lobster and scallop thing with pear and olive essence (sounds like something an alchemist would invent) is interesting rather than delicious. The crab however is wonderful, just not enough of it.
There seem to be a lot of Japanese influnces on the menu, which bodes well and is almost expected in Vancouver Fusion land. There are more lobster dishes than any other on the menu and I consider that, but eat lobster rarely and scallops often so I'm more likely to learn something I can cook by ordering the scallops, or so I figure.
The scallops arrive. I don't belive how good they are. The server has reccommended another wine which works well for me (a chardonay) but alas, Bo's wine pairing tastes more like water than wine, with his admittedly divine halibut, my favourite fish. The scallops are soaring in so many different directions, I can't keep count of them all. The olive garnish and the peppercress on top somehow manage to kick it into even a higher dimension. And the Jerusalem artichokes are divinely inspired. I feel like Simon Bolivar, freeing a whole new continent of flavour, or Louis Armstrong inventing jazz, a new way for new instruments to play something different and more excellent. The vegetables seem to be the voice of the vegetables themselves, what they want us to taste of them. We savour their souls and become them.
On this blog I've often thought of food in terms of battles- the valiant attempt of a particular dish to overcome expectations for example, but eating the heavenly C food, I think instead of an Ursula K Leguin world where fighting was not only non-existant, but unimagineable. All was endless harmony. The ingredients go together as if resonating from memories of an earlier era where they were all the same lifeform.
The last bite of scallops is so saturated with sublimity it's as if Vince Guaraldi were still alive, playing my tastebuds instead of piano keys. My fete has been cast to the wind- a divine wind.
For someone who usually avoids sweets, it even strikes me as odd to be ordering desert. A lavender flavoured ice cream is too intriguing to pass up. As a child, I used to love some lavender flavoured candies and this was just as good. Fumiyo thought it tasted like soap, but she doesn't have my memories. The pear tart seems to be visiting us from another world where pears are taken seriously. There is also a peach jelly component to the desert which reminds me of something familiar, but I can't decide what it is. Cloves? Whatever it is, it's miraculous.
Well, all the food isn't as good as my scallops, but those scallops are better than I thought food could be. I'm always happy to be proved wrong about such things. Thankfully I didn't have to die to experience C's scallops.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Protean Picasso does Vancouver

"It would be very interesting to preserve photographically not the stages but the metamorphoses of a picture. Possibly one might then discover the path followed by the brain in materializing dream."
Picasso to Christian Zervos, 1935

A great idea greets you as you enter the Protean Picasso exhibit that was opening around us at the Vancouver Art Gallery, in a crowd of children. Fumiyo's friend Bo from high school days wanted to see the city's art museum, as did many others on this day as the gallery celebrated its 10th birthday by smearing cake on the mouths of multitudes of the young. Pablo would have approved. A survey of Pablo's work over the decade, carefully noting his influnces, it reminded me of the Modigliani show I'd seen recently in DC even before I saw an images. Fun with African masks, other things.
The first one I liked was the oddly 3D Head of a Woman from 1905. San Francisco was still unquaked.
Still Life with Bottles, 1912 reminds me of the way street scenes reflected in downtown windows I was video'ing last week seemed to illuminate other worlds that are going on at angles to our perceptions. Cubism emperically makes a lot more sense to me than it did before I had that particular vision.
A Man With a Dog. Finally found the dog but the man appears to be a newspaper labelled Leg reading another, unlabeled newspaper with some sort of man parts below it. The bizarre, playful imagery of an old Dylan song.
A most cartoonish sculpted head reminds me of George Clinton's album covers that were the PBS show about him the other night. Did Clinton influence Picasso or....
Sculptor with Fishbowl and Nude seated before Sculptor: The woman's ass goes one way and her head goes an impossible direction. Reminded me a line from one of my favourite books, Thomas Pyncheon's The Crying of Lot 49, in describing a stamp, "...the head of a Pony express rider at the lower left was set at a disturbing angle unknown among the living." Model Viewing a Sculptured Group also has one of those impossible asses.
The Franco cartoon reminds me of Rebecca Dart's comic Rabbit Head.
Minotaurauchy reminds me of Pablo's great Russian contemporary Marc Chagall, channelling Bosch perhaps.
1934's Catalan Drinkers looks like a conversation between a sketch and a finished portrait.
Blind Minotaur led through the night by girl with fluttering dove even more evokes Chagall, and portrays the Minotaur to greatest pity. Great shading on this. For all his experimentation, this is one where the medium really contributes to the aesthetics. This wouldn't work in oil, but in its chosen medium, Illuminates.
Exploring other floors, we found ourselves in a large room filled with Chinese cut paper images, from floor to distant ceiling. Like looking at woodblock prints, the amazing thing is not the work of art itself, but that someone would spend that much effort to produce the effect. The fact that the dog sings badly isn't the point.
The File Room is even more conceptual. A good idea, but it ain't art. That's true with most of the junk in the Vancouver Art Gallery. Bo and I had continauly ask ourselves was this supposed to be art, when confronting typewriters wrapped in plastic, broken lamps, stacks of building materials, etc that cluttered the building. Along with some of local Rennaissance Beatnik Al Neil's paintings, a piano keyboard hung with what look like car parts, hence a rattle for Al Neil, was being replicated in minature by little kids busily assembling their own rattles. Elsewhere, kids put buttons on small pieces of paper and sketched furiously. The people copying the Emily Carr paintings on the 4th floor were already vastly surpassing her. Picasso isn't even one of my top thousand favourite painters, but seeing Carr's paintings is enough to make one wish one had been born blind. There was one Picasso-esque work by another artist, Mark Toby's Emily Carr Studio 1928, that really cooks. Even the worst of art is capable of inspiring beauty. A lesson for us all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Sound of One Tommy Chonging

Before seeing AKA Tommy Chong, I would have asked Mr. Chong if he believed a single movie could serve a political purpose, with the wash of media drowning us in messagery. After the film, Tommy talked to everybody in the theatre, the lobby and probably everyone he passed on the street except me. He likes to talk.
Thankfully the film answered the question, allowing me to rest my vocal chords around the Chongster while everyone else was exercising theirs. He said it was the director's film and I was with people who knew the director so I didnt mind him hustling me for my vote in the best picture ballot. Tommy was relentlessly funny, in the film and in the flesh. Perhaps he has chosen to be, and perfected the art through dedades on the road. His wife Shelby sets him off perfectly, in the film, their act and standing next to him in a scrum of fans stoned on being in his presence.
I think of editing too much, after the 2nd week of my editing class. I noticed shots that would have been better colour corrected with those before and after them, but considering how much of this was shot in the Los Angeles desert, it looked pretty good. The camera in Tommy's face as he drives around with the city flashing by through the window was a delight to see, annoying as it must have been as he prepared to go to jail. As he says, he was never political before his "bust" but he has woken up, and is determined to wake the multitudes- it was him now, it could be YOU next. Ashcroft's menacing drug villain freely admits that as a comedian, he followed his audience and tried to be popular. Chong is either naturally funny or endlessly on because of all the years he's had people looking at him- he wants to entertain us. So do lots of people. Few have been as successfull as Tommy Chong. His attempt at an anti-drug video for the Drug Courts touting the psychedelic properties of dancing as a way to combat drugs is as funny as any Cheech and Chong routine, almost Richard Pryoresque.
The film bounced along like a well edited TV show (unlike Takeshis, which lurched along like a TV show whose editor had committed hara-kiri in between cuts). It should find an audience on the small screen or your DVD player. And like Fahrenheit 911, which it riffs on with Ashcroft vs the Boobs of Justice, among other places, like Tommy's been trying to do since his skin colour determined he couldn't get invited to a white playmate's birthday party as a child in Calgary, he'll make you pay attention to him. To his message. To the legions who'd like to speak for themselves but speak through his voice.
I first saw Cheech and Chong as the comedy act between Cannonball Adderly sets in LA in 1971, recorded as the Black Messiah album You can listen to Cannonball et al in all their glory- to which comedians were a distraction, a bit of background noise that faded in and out as you went to the bathroom. They reminded me too much of the Committee at the time. I never thought they'd make it big. My money was on the more cerebral comedy of the Firesign Theatre. I was wrong on both cases. It's hard to meet someone named Dave and not think of Cheech and Chong's most famous bit. The Firesign Theatre cited CheechChong in their "Dope Humour of the 70s bit", but dope humour was merely one bullet in their arsenal. This month they performed in London for the BBC, still trying to increase their audience, one laugh at a time, but their chances of achieving Cheech and Chong (or even Monty Python) levels of popularity are lotteryesque at best. Chong soldiers on.
Late in 1972, I shared a flight from Vancouver to LA with Chong & Cheech whose stars were in rapid ascendency, despite my prediction. They carried a large number of wrapped up Christmas presents on their way to customs. I suggested that they untie the gifts to prepare to display their innocence, their hair-length might otherwise jeopardize. "We're famous, we'll get though" they told me, a man of similar hair length but without the blinding shield of fame. But their fame deflected not the scrutiny of customs, and I waved to them busily unwrapping their parcels, to the delay of multitudes of annoyed passengers unlikely to ever be their fans thereafter.
It was pleasent to see that arrogance, however comically timed, long gone.
Tommy went through no gulag but he remains luckier than most the Powers That Beat seek to punish. He remains protected by his success, by the armies of fans who put down their bongs long enough to write to him in prison. They depend on him to keep the spotlight on their mutual victimhood in the vast American (etc) war on some drugs.
Technology today makes the entertaining broadcast quality tale of whatever value ubiquitous. You don't have to Make Hollywood Movies or even Be On Commercial TV anymore to reach a large audience with your productions, and inspire actual change. But having more than change in your pocket still helps.
Is the sound of one hand clapping like the sound of one breast being uncovered on the statue of justice behind Ashcroft's successor, a symbol of a mental shift- an end to cultural deafness, or just a dream? Tommy promotes good dreams. What we all need is to wake into a life not so perilous to good dreamers.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

To the Beat of a Different Takeshi

Takeshis, at the Vancouver International Film Festival today, flashed me back to Japan, and many other places. The opening scene with Japanese solider Beat Takeshi staring into the face of a conquering American soldier reminded me of the only flick I've seen Beat in, Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence He was ubiquitous on TV (much of Takeshis is made up of scenes from TV shows) decades ago. I was told he'd become quite a filmaker since those days, but this is his first I've seen.
Apparently many of the others are gangster dramas with lots of bullets, a riff he repeats ad nauseum in Takeshis. There are actually funny gangster scenes, such as the actual yakuza being too real for the mean chef role they're auditioning for. Indeed there is funniness in abundance. Also occasionally interesting things to say about death, which appears to be more of a state of laundry.
The whole film leered from wondrously tight little scenes, perfectly composed and played out, into others so boring your mind drifts to other uses for the money you wasted on a ticket for this thing. Takeshi seems lost in dreamland. One wonders if he's ever heard of editing. He evokes our sympathy for his poor double, and plays upon the variations to the extent the empathy vanishes away, like wakefullness endlessly interrupted. So many possibilities, personalities and occasionally ideas bombard you , you're drenched rather than quenched. You remain thirsty for coherency. There has to be a story in there somewhere. Characters in search of an author. Images in search of an artist. You keep rooting for Takeshi. Surely he'll solve the mystery of how to end his flick or at least wake up.
I hadn't thought of it when we lived in Japan, but looking back on it now, I can understand why my daughter's nickname, "Bit"- pronounced "Beato" in Japanese English, was so readily grasped in the Japanese environment she lived the first decade of her life. Well, at least I got something for the price of the ticket, along with a certain nostalgia for the cheap aparment the poor Beat character lived in from the days when I lived in such places. Nostalgia for times of poverty only works when you're no longer poor.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Taste of Lower Lonsdale

We used to live in the Lower Lonsdale area of North Vancouver. It has only been 2 years, but the place has changed a lot. I remember rumours of a new community centre in the maze of new condos and apartments that were arising at the time. Now it's here.
After the great feast of the Taste of Vancouver a few weeks ago, when I learned that the restaurants in the Lower Lonsdale area were having a tasting of their own, I had high expectations. Unlike the Vancouver event where you bought books of tickets, 20 for $10 which didn't last long, in this venue you paid a mere $2.00 for a passport. This gave you the opportunity of sampling tidbits from 11 Lower Lonsdale establishments. I started with an exquisite ravioli in mushroom sauce (yes, A ravioli) from Gusto di Quattro, a fine Italian place we used to frequent when we lived around here. From Raglan's Bistro, which I had never visited, a spicy piece of Jerked chicken. There were no beverages available that I could see (unless you count Starbucks, which I don't) so I was delighted with the cracker covered with an anchovie-olive paste from Le Bistro Chez Michel- extrememly refreshing. From Fiesta Filipino, the Philipine store/restaurant behind our old condo where I used to buy eggplant and limes, a micro-spring roll and some tasty pork bits. The local Greek spot, Anatoli Souvlaki had pieces of bread with humus, which were very filling. More fillling yet were the pumpkin muffins from the Artisan Bake Shoppe, along with a very interesting piece of bread full of nuts and grains and what not. It was so good I stopped at the Shoppe on the way home and bought a loaf.
The area was nice when we lived there, and has improved dramatically. It was a delight to see a mixture of little kids and old people of various cultures all having a great time.
It's hard to believe the food sponsors could afford to dispense even these tiny portions of their menus to the legions lined up to enjoy them, all for a $2.00 passport, but if enough people then patronize their restaurants based on what they enjoyed here today, it could work. It was like the food tastings you get in grocery stores. Will these tastings proliferate throughout the metropolitan area, I wonder?