Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You can't go back

We had not been there for seventeen years and it was a surprise, as it was all that time ago when we'd celebrated a birthday. This time it was nostalgia, more or less, that took us across the Bay Bridge and far further into the town than I remembered from the previous visit. A long time, seventeen years, during which things can change, but the same steep steps which I climbed – more creakily this time – were still there, as was the same long and narrow Craftsman-style room filling slowly with guests for the second sitting at dinner: the same wooden walls, golden light and, when seated, the same aloof waiter (if only in character, not person) placing the same woodcut-fronted menu on the same white-clothed, barely-adequate table, together with the best bread I've ever had.

"Go figure," said the Celt, spotting, as had I, my least favorite food on the prix fixe menu. It had been there, too, seventeen years ago and despite the passing of the years I have grown no fonder of dead bird.

"Quite." I said resignedly, "You'll be helping me with that. I sometimes wonder how dead bird got to be the culinary equivalent of the pansies of the landscaping world?

"Not that there's anything wrong with that," he said, ignoring my sourness about the menu, "some of our best friends are ... "


"Pansies," he said,  causing any residual gloom about the impending grilled duck breast and crépinette with braised new garlic, potatoes fried in duck fat, and garden salad, to dissolve in his smile.  

"Too many damned adjectives," I growled as I continued to read the menu "and who in their right minds says gâteau glacé instead of ice-cream?" Mumble, grumble, mumble. 

"All right, Grumbleweed, relax," he said. So I did.

What seemed extraordinary all those years ago now seemed quite the opposite. It occurred to me that though there must have been changes at what had been my long-admired highpoint in American cooking, it was I who have changed. I live in a city where restaurant food can be superb, and visit other cities of which the same can be said. Nonetheless, disappointed we were not – a little let down, perhaps, despite standards having remained high – rather that the restaurant was no longer the stand-out it once was. For the world had changed around it, and that change for the better had been initiated by the owner and founder of the restaurant.

San Francisco, a city I had heretofore not liked much, came alive for me last weekend. The city hadn't changed, I thought, so the difference was me. Perhaps I had mellowed, though a snort from the Celt put paid to that concept pretty quickly.

Our trip to San Francisco was to see The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860 – 1900 an exhibition we'd missed in London last summer. And I can tell you it was well worth the journey, especially for an interior designer with any pretensions to knowing the history of styles and, if one thought it had relevance to one's life, to knowing something more about gay history by reading about the Aesthetic Movement.

The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the de Young museum made the flight across the country doubly worth it. Matching, it seems to me, the endless inventiveness of Jean-Paul Gaultier are what appear to be automata amongst the mannequins. What they are, in fact, are mannequins with basic but blank facial features onto which are projected videos of moving faces that appear to interact with the beholder – sometimes looking directly at one; sometimes smiling derisively; occasionally a quick glance and a "bravo" such as I received when I stepped in front of the matelot and took out my iPhone; from others monologues, and in one case whistling and singing. Disconcerting and thrilling at the same time – I had not had such a good time in a museum in years.

You can't go back to the same place, as the saying goes – by which I think is meant you can't go back to the same time and place. But this trip showed me that, sometimes, you can go back and see the same place in a new light. It has changed, and I have changed, and both, I like to think, for the better.


  1. And thank goodness that we DO change, and grow, and mellow, and evolve, or otherwise what should be the point of life?

    Quite intrigued by this cleverness of the projected images on the faces. Sounds brilliantly riveting.

    1. Glamour Drops, thank you. I agree and thank goodness we do change but I'm not too sure how much I've mellowed.

      I hope the Gaultier exhibition goes to Australia - it was such an exciting thing to see. Those manikins are wonderful and entertaining enough to be convincing. I loved them.

  2. Replies
    1. Daniel James Shigo, thank you. Hitch your horses to the Calistoga wagon and head out. Go west, young man, the Aesthetic Movement awaits.

  3. The Gaultier exhibition is to be shown at the museum of architecture in Stockholm next year, Can´t wait!

    1. Nirs Peter Nordin, thank you. I might even visit the exhibition again next year when it is in Stockholm - a city I've never visited and I wonder why. If you like inventiveness you'll love this exhibition - I assume the speaking manikins will still be part of it.

  4. Dear Mr. Grumbleweed,

    You had me at the pansy comment. Charming, you two. I enjoy the food scene in San Francisco. I don't have your dead bird thing, but can't get my arms around octopus!

    The exhibit sounds quite intoxicating. Love the Legion of Honor. As far changing/mellowing/ etc. etc. I guess it's a mix of giving in, letting go, and hell no we won't go. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

    1. home before dark, thank you. No pun intended, I assume - "but can't get my arms around octopus." Right!

  5. You definitely should come to Stockholm, it´s a beautiful city. I just came home from a visit there. We went to see the exhibition of works by swedish artist Eugéne Jansson. They where wonderfully exposed in the gallery of Prince Eugene´s Waldemarsudde. A palace donated to the state by the prince.