Wednesday, July 29, 2015

California Dreaming

People are often surprised that I enjoy visiting California on vacations. Oh sure, there's always some business involved, since I do manage to keep up with colleagues and previous business partners on these trips. But I just like spending time in California. Sure, there's a drought. And when you leave the coast, it can get hot, almost as delightful as Washington in July or August. But in Marin County, where I happen to be now, the views I pass almost everywhere are spectacular. The temperature is just about as temperate as in San Francisco, which shares with New York the distinction of being the only places inevitably referred to as The City.

Last night I saw Anna Deavere Smith perform her one-woman show at the Berkeley Rep, entitled Notes From the Field, etc. In it she portrays a series of about 20 characters, male and female, black, white, and Asian, concerned with how our educational system fails so many of its poorer students, who then end up in prison.  One of the characters she inhabited is a judge I met when assessing drug court at a Yurok tribe reservation in the northernmost part of California; the judge works as a municipal court judge in San Francisco but one weekend a month, drives many hours to the reservation to preside over tribal courts there.

There is a fine show of J.M.W. Turner's paintings and drawings at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. If you managed to see the movie, Mr. Turner, a while back, you should make it your business to see this show. Turner is increasingly seen as a key influence in the development of modern art. His fascination with light, usually on water, presaged the Luminists and then, perhaps most significantly, the Impressionists: Monet, for example, derives much of his technique directly from Turner. Turner, in turn, acknowledged what he learned from distinguished forebears who included Solomon van Ruysdaal, the Dutch landscape master, and Claude Lorrain, the early French engraver and painter of landscapes who more or less invented the field.

When driving to see a colleague in Sacramento, I recalled my first time headed that way when my friend living there suggested I stop at the then-famous Nut Tree--a combination of a store selling things you don't need, mostly to tourists, and a restaurant--in Vacaville. The signs for the Nut Tree are still there but I never could put my finger on the enterprise amid the numerous shopping malls and other indicia of how the area has developed. I did feel that another vestige of the older California had become hidden from view.

Lastly and by no means least, I had the pleasure of savoring sand dabs, a small, delicate, delicious, fish found in these parts. It has adorned the menus of San Francisco seafood places for generations. Twice in one day may have been pushing it, but should you find yourself in Sam's Grill, an establishment dating back to the 49-er days--no, not the NFL team--order them before they run out. It even says (Limited) after their entry on the menu.

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